Whites favored over African-Americans, ACLU amends police bias suit

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VIC WOLCZAK

 

On April 15, the American Civil Liberties Union filled an amended lawsuit against the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police with five individuals who previously applied for the police force. The lawsuit claims the bureau’s hiring practices favor Whites over African-American candidates and that these practices account for the paltry numbers of minorities on the force.
“We’ve added three more plaintiffs and we’ve updated hiring data,” said Vic Walczak, legal director of ACLU of Pennsylvania. “So there’s been two classes since we filed the lawsuit and they are marginally better but still a very long way from a better system.”
The lawsuit alleges a longstanding pattern and practice of racial discrimination in the screening and hiring for entry-level police officer positions.
Since 2001, the city has hired only 17 Black officers out of 440 total, representing less than 4 percent of new hires. Less than 16 percent of the total police force is made up of African-Americans, despite the fact they make up 26 to 29 percent of the city’s population.    
“We haven’t pointed a finger and said here’s a person in a white hood, but they’re clearly playing games,” Walczak said.
According to the lawsuit, discrimination happens at every level of the hiring process from the very beginning when applicants take the Law Enforcement Aptitude Battery test, which 13.8 percent of Blacks fail and only 2.8 percent of Whites fail. Throughout the following phases of the hiring process, the lawsuit claims certain applicants are given preferential treatment because of their existing relationships with current officers.
In order to end the discrimination the lawsuit says the city could hire an outside company to do oral examinations and that candidates should remain anonymous to avoid bias. They also believe all interviews should be videotaped.
In Philadelphia in the 1970s and ‘90s there were similar lawsuit filed against the bureau of police for discriminatory hiring practices. The two suits specifically related to the hiring of African-Americans resulted in consent decrees.
As a result of the lawsuit, the percentage of African-Americans on Philadelphia’s police force increased from 12 percent to 35 percent.
The ACLU filed the original Pittsburgh lawsuit in August and Walczak says the organization isn’t even at the discovery stage yet.
“There’s a saying, the wheels of justice grind slowly,” he said.

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