Police adjust recruitment techniques

Area departments reconsider minority hiring practices

Efforts began in 1970s

Affirmative action policies have spurred several lawsuits

November 14, 1999|By Nancy A. Youssef | Nancy A. Youssef,SUN STAFF

Stung by lawsuits and other complaints, Baltimore-area police departments are changing the way they seek minority and female officers, broadening recruitment campaigns far beyond the station house.

The Maryland State Police are posting signs at black fraternities and sororities, and setting up booths at events sponsored by radio stations that target blacks. Howard County Police Chief Wayne Livesay has sent recruiting officers to high schools and community centers in minority neighborhoods.

Some departments also are creating mentoring programs and internships to boost the qualifications of potential applicants, well before formal screening and testing begin.

By shifting their focus toward the early stages of hiring, departments hope to silence complaints that there are different standards for minorities and females -- and to avoid damaging legal challenges to affirmative action policies.

"The courts say it's up to them to define what the law is, not police departments," says Kevin Love, a management professor at Central Michigan University in Mount Pleasant, Mich., and author of several books on police hiring practices. "They have been very clear about this."

The lawsuits followed efforts that began in earnest in the 1970s, as large city police forces sought to better reflect the residents they served.

In recent years, the need to diversify has grown in suburbia, especially in counties that have seen a big increase in the number of minority residents. Before, in the absence of real public pressure, these departments "didn't face the challenge," Love says.

When the pressure built, departments took the easier approach -- to rewrite affirmative action policies, Love says.

Howard County police officials, for example, decided 1995 would be the year they would change the face of the department.

They created an affirmative action policy that included special criteria for minority and female candidates during the interview and questionnaire phases. And they got results: 13 of the 25 officers hired that year were minorities and 12 were women, the department's first class in which minorities were in the majority.

But that approach -- giving some people preferential treatment -- created problems for Howard County. Lawsuits followed, including one filed in July by a white man who charged that the county discriminated against him.

Investing in recruitment might have been a better way to boost minority employment, but it's expensive and highly competitive. Expenses include additional personnel, travel and research.

Police departments compete not only with each other for applicants, but also with employers that offer higher pay and less danger.

"When we are sitting at the job fair next to Bell Atlantic, AT&T, IBM and then there's the Baltimore County Police Department, it's hard," says Pfc. Shelley Johnson, who works in the county's recruiting unit.

At the Maryland State Police, 1st Sgt. Anita Allen, who is in charge of recruiting, has a "passion" for it, fueled partly by her experience of applying to the agency in 1989 as a black woman from Baltimore.

"I had never seen a black female trooper," says Allen, who is beginning to post signs at black sororities and fraternities. "We are just going to make the posters female and African-American-friendly. In other words, we are not going to have a 6-foot-8 white male on there. That, to me, is counterproductive."

In the last two years, state police also began a mentoring program, in part to attract minority candidates, Allen says.

"Someone might be weak in one area" during the early part of their application, says state police spokesman Pete Paringer. "We'll put them with an experienced trooper and help them through the process."

Baltimore officials say they have ironed out any problems in recruiting minorities. They do not have any special strategies for minorities, says Sgt. Ronald Pattie, who leads the city's recruitment unit.

"Actually, we get a lot of [minority candidates] to come in this office," he says. "I don't think it's because of any conscious effort on our part."

In Baltimore County, officials have created a 20-member committee to discuss ways to recruit minorities, create outreach programs and evaluate the success of the Police Department's efforts.

Howard County's troubles -- and its policies -- illustrate the changes among local police departments.

Livesay played a significant role in hiring officers in 1995, when he was captain and James N. Robey -- who is now county executive -- was police chief. Court documents from the lawsuit and interviews with county officials and black leaders help explain why the agency launched an intensive program to hire minorities and women.

County officials say they were trying to rectify old problems. They were also under pressure from the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, which heard complaints from minority and female candidates who felt they were being slighted.

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