Thursday, September 4, 2014

Easier said than done

I just saw on TV that the US Justice Department is set to launch an investigation of the Ferguson, MO Police Department.  It was pointed out that, "shockingly", the police department was only 6% African American while the population of Ferguson was 67% African American.

I know nothing about the Ferguson Police Department and their staffing policies, but I can tell you that recruiting for police officers is like pulling teeth.  As I've mentioned before, I was on my city's Civil Service Commission for 18 years, overseeing our police and fire department hiring, firing, discipline, promotion, etc.  They, particularly the police department, regularly sent recruiting teams to job fairs all over the state...out of state, even...trying to entice minority applicants to come join us. It was a tough sell.

To make matters even more difficult, as a Civil Service Rule city our applicants had to take a standardized test, prepared by a 3rd party out-of-state company who specialized in civil service exams.  (Their tests had previously been scrutinized, and even court challenged in other jurisdictions, and were found to be race / gender / orientation neutral.)  

We could and did award a few extra points to honorably discharged military veterans, but by law, we were then required to take the highest scoring applicants, period.  Police recruiting isn't just putting a "Now Hiring" sign in the window.

As I said I have no idea how the Ferguson Police run their department, and they might be crooked as a barrel of snakes for all I know, but be careful when you hear those statistics about a particular department being shy of this or that minority representation.  Often times, hard as they try, it's out of their hands.

Just thought you should know.



  1. I think part of the problem may be the resentment between community and the police is so high, much of which is the fault of years and years of poor policing toward minorities, that minorities do not want to apply and peer pressure also keeps down applications.

    Appreciate your experience in this, just seems like other departments in other cities do not have such a large discrepancy in representation.

  2. Another obstacle is the wages paid police; I read recently about how Detroit is losing their experienced officers to other cities who were actively recruiting them for much higher salaries. The starting wage in my small town is 34K/year, which is barely enough for one person to live frugally.

  3. Our local police department goes out of its way to find black cop applicants as we currently have no black officers on staff. I understand blacks don't want to participate in the Ferguson police department and in the last election less than 6% of blacks voted. If they want a police department and city council that reflects their interests, black people need to participate more. I wish Al Sharpton would reinforce this instead of just stirring up rancor.

  4. For some reason, minorities are underrepresented in military special operations too. The Navy SEALs have recently gone out of their way to diversify but with little success.

  5. My son is a corrections officer in Buffalo - an area people often seek to move away from, to warmer climates. He's experienced the "aggressive recruiting" by southern states like Georgia, South Carolina, Florida, etc. And he has compared his wages to those of his counterparts in those southern states. He finally came to the conclusion that while his job is not perfect and taxes in New York State are high, he likes being represented by a union. And he likes the fact that he makes enough money to provide for his family without having to work a second job as a private security guard, like many of his counterparts in southern states have to. From what he tells me, he has a number of black colleagues, and yes, a civil service test is required in New York State.

    I don't know what the problem in Ferguson is and if my anecdotal knowledge has anything to do with it, but I do believe if you pay rock-bottom wages, you get bottom-of-the barrel people.

    1. In/around Dallas the starting pay for city police is in the $50K range with nice benefits. Pay increases are a given, and there is lots of overtime, too (lots of time spent in court waiting to give testimony). Our officers can do very well, and with Civil Service they have fair work rules and protections. But you're right, lousy pay often times means lousy police. I suspect some of the small town departments fall into the category you mentioned.