The City of Pittsburgh has agreed to pay $985,000 to roughly 360 African Americans who were eliminated from the pool of candidates for police jobs between 2008 and 2014 due to inherent bias in the hiring system.
Mayor Bill Peduto, joined by state American Civil Liberties Union Legal Director Vitold Walczak, city Solicitor Lourdes Sanchez-Ridge and representatives of several community groups, announced the settlement of the 2012 lawsuit during a May 7 press conference, calling it an “historic day for the city.”
“We need a police force that looks like Pittsburgh does, and today the city and the civil rights community are coming together to find the best and most equitable way to do that,” he said.
That appears to be a total revamping of the hiring system that independent consultant, industrial psychologist Leaetta Hough, found at every level “has an adverse impact on African American candidates.”
Walczak said Hough was given unprecedented access to police bureau, Office of Municipal Investigations and civil service files to conduct her six-month analysis and she found examples at each stage of the hiring process that were “weeding out African American candidates.”
“Okay the city population is about 25 percent African-American. We’d get, say, 20 percent applicants, and maybe 19 percent who actually take the test,” said Walczak. “Each of the six steps after that had a disparate impact to where the cumulative effect at the end of the day was a hiring rate of 4 percent.”
Walczak said Hough turned up instances where Black candidates were rejected because they had smoked marijuana in high school, while White candidates who admitted doing so much more recently were hired.
“Same thing with moving violations,” he said. “Blacks were rejected because of poor driving records, when Whites—some who had far worse violations, like leaving the scene of an accident—were hired.
Walczak went on to praise Peduto for rising to this challenge because the suit was filed before he became mayor.
“I said the other day that—because it started before he was sworn in—he didn’t own this problem. But he has taken ownership of it, and should be recognized for that,” he said.
City Solicitor Lourdes Sanchez-Ridge said the new hiring protocols designed by consultants EB Jacobs would take about a year to fully put in place.
“We want to take the time because we want to get this right,” she said. “This is a solution that’s specific to Pittsburgh. It is not some off-the-shelf program you shoehorn in.”
Tim Stevens, chair of the Black Political Empowerment Project, said he would have preferred reinstating the system used in the 1970s (since ruled unconstitutional) that hired one African American and one woman for each White male.
“But I believe the mayor, the police chief, the solicitor and the head of OMI are committed to doing something about this problem,” he said. “And I would encourage African Americans to apply to become police officers.”
Though city council and U.S. Attorney David Hickton’s office still have to approve the settlement, Peduto said it will help accomplish three things: hiring qualified police officers, increase diversity and bridge the gap between the police bureau and the Black community.
“This isn’t about lowering standards, it’s about seeing that they are applied equally,” he said.
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