Department seeks to improve diversity

November 22, 1994|By Ed Heard | Ed Heard,Sun Staff Writer

Howard County's Police Department has not met the county's goal of 15 percent minority hiring, but a new recruitment class next spring should improve the diversity on the force, Chief James N. Robey says.

The hiring goal was outlined by the county's Office of Personnel in an affirmative action plan that showed that blacks comprise Howard's largest minority group, about 12 percent or 22,000 of the county's approximately 187,000 residents, according to the 1990 Census.

Although women and minorities each make up about 13 percent of the department's 301 sworn officers, Chief Robey says the department recently took a more aggressive approach to boost diversity, particularly among blacks.

"I'll readily admit we need to do a better job," Chief Robey said.

"While our numbers reflect the county, it's not adequate," he said. "Minority hiring is extremely important. It adds more credibility to people being treated fairly by police.

"If we're not a diverse department, we're not fulfiling our commitment to the community," Chief Robey said.

While the current class of 23 recruits at the Howard County Police Academy -- expected to graduate next spring -- includes two black men and one black woman, Chief Robey says he hopes to have a new police academy class by March or April that would fill 14 existing vacancies with predominantly female minority recruits.

Money from a federal crime bill could boost the next academy class to as many as 25 recruits.

And department recruiters plan to search for new employees at historically black colleges in Maryland and to hire from the military.

Black officers say the increased focus on minority recruitment is part of an incremental improvement over the years.

"When I started in January 1984, I thought it was a strange thing when I walked in the door and there were no black women," said Crime Prevention Section supervisor Sgt. Karen Burnett, the department's first black woman. "The times had already changed. Why hadn't this county?"

Many black officers say percentages don't mean much because officers are spread out over the county and rarely see each other.

Some may never even meet each other in the line of duty or while working any of the 24 patrol squads.

"We don't really get a chance to bond with each other," Sergeant Burnett said.

The isolation felt by many black officers mirrors a national trend, says Ronald Hampton, executive director of the National Black Police Association in Washington.

"We're not seeing African-American leaders in the police departments," said Mr. Hampton, a retired 22-year veteran of the Metropolitan Police Department in Washington.

Mr. Hampton said hiring of minorities is affected by the images many blacks have of police departments.

"At a time when we see more African-American males being arrested, African-American people are not going to look at being police officers in a constructive view," Mr. Hampton said.

Mr. Hampton says police departments have to look internally to examine what could be improved.

But some Howard County officers say they have to work harder.

"The perception is we're not equal in a sense," said Dennis Matthews, president of the Howard County Centurions For Justice, an organization that represents the department's 39 black officers.

"We often feel like we have to be a cut above everybody else. We're held to a higher standard," he said.

Mr. Matthews said an increase in black officers would provide young people with role models.

Of the 39 black officers, there is one captain, two black lieutenants and three black sergeants.

"That's positive, but we don't want it to stop there," Mr. Matthews said.

The county's minority hiring record compares favorably with Anne Arundel, Montgomery and Baltimore counties, which have about the same percentage of black residents.

On the Anne Arundel County force, blacks comprise 8 percent, or 45, of the department's 567 officers, and women account for 8 percent of the total.

In the Baltimore County Police Department, blacks make up 9 percent, or 137, of the 1,487 officers. Women account for 10 percent of the force.

In Montgomery County, about 147, or 16 percent, of the department's 910 officers are black and women comprise 18 percent of the force.

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