Police class lacks black women

May 11, 1995|By Ed Heard | Ed Heard,Sun Staff Writer

Despite a vow by Howard County police Chief James N. Robey to recruit more minority women, the county's latest police academy class has none.

In a class of 25 recruits that began training in March, there are three black males, four white females and 18 white males. The 323-member department only has nine black female officers.

Police officials say they want to increase diversity in the county's 323-member department, but they have had a tough time attracting and hiring qualified black women in particular.

This failure has prompted Howard African-American leaders to call for a meeting soon with Chief Robey to discuss what they say are poor efforts to diversity in the county police force.

"We need to be beyond excuses and explanations and start making arrangements for it to happen, with a timetable attached," said the Rev. Robert Turner, head of the Howard County African-American Coalition, which represents 50 organizations countywide.

Chief Robey did not return phone calls Tuesday and yesterday.

In November, he said: "Minority hiring is extremely important. . . . I'll readily admit we need to do a better job." At that time, the department had not met an affirmative action goal of 15 percent minority hiring set by the county.

Two recruit classes later, blacks and women each still make up 13 percent of the department's ranks. The first of these two classes, scheduled to graduate in May, had only two black men and one black woman among its 23 members.

The representation of minorities in the department matches the overall representation of blacks in the county. In Howard, there are about 28,700 blacks -- the largest minority group -- among a total of 217,900 residents, according to the latest state statistics.

In November, when Chief Robey made his vow, the Howard department's hiring compared favorably to the proportion of blacks and women in larger police departments in Anne Arundel, Montgomery and Baltimore counties. "I don't think the lack of black females was due to lack of effort," said Dennis Matthews, president of the Howard County Centurions for Justice, which represents the county's black police officers. "But recruitment's still got to get better."

Howard police say they've improved recruitment efforts by going to historically black colleges, advertising on black radio stations and newspapers and attending 24 career fairs since February.

"Generally, we don't have black females applying," said Capt. Wayne Livesay, head of police support services. "We're making the effort, but I don't know what the answer is."

Of the 381 applicants for the current recruit class that started in March, 16 were black females, said Sgt. Steven E. Keller, the department's spokesman.

He said 13 were eliminated by physical ability or by written or oral tests. The remaining three were given conditional offers of employment, but they eventually were eliminated as a result of background checks or health or psychological tests.

"We did not get what we felt were enough qualified people in that process," Captain Livesay said. "We set a standard and if they don't meet the standard, we don't pick them -- no matter who they are."

Greater diversity would help the Howard department do its work better, says one of two black female officers who work full time as recruiters.

"It's very important when you go out in the community," said Officer Donna Roulette. Black women "can relate to us and we can relate to them," she said.

Jenkins Odoms, president of the Howard County branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, who said he has been writing to Chief Robey about diversity, was surprised the current class has so few blacks. He said he plans to meet with the chief.

Black leaders say that many black women are interested, but that the key is how recruiters introduce law enforcement to them.

"They have to see themselves in the position," said Ronald Hampton, executive director of the National Black Police Association in Washington. "Departments need to invest in developing recruitment strategies."

Captain Livesay said the department's recruiting efforts may bear fruit in July, when hiring for the next academy class in January 1996 starts. At least 15 new positions are being requested in the police department's budget for that class.

The Howard police force's make-up is: 238 white males, 33 white females, 32 black males, nine black females and six officers categorized as "others."

"We don't want people just working for the police department," Mr. Turner said. "We want people promoted, too."

The 41 blacks in the department include one captain, two lieutenants, one male and two female sergeants.

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