Pittsburgh police force’s diversity worsens since discrimination lawsuit
The Pittsburgh police force is less racially representative of the community it serves than it was when the ACLU filed a lawsuit two years ago alleging discrimination in hiring practices.
Thirteen percent of the police force is black, continuing the decline in black officers since at least 2010 when the force was 17 percent black. According to the 2010 census, 26 percent of the city population is black.
The American Civil Liberties Union in August 2012 filed a federal lawsuit claiming that each step of the police bureau’s hiring process disproportionately eliminates minority candidates, including blacks, and favors whites. It said the city hired five black officers out of the 188 officers who joined the force between 2007 and 2011. A mediation session is scheduled on Thursday.
“All applicants should have a fair shot at getting a job,” said Vic Walczak, state legal director of the ACLU. “These are well-paying jobs that give people a respected role in the community. In terms of police-community relations, which are now strained, having the force reflect the demographics of the community will help alleviate tensions.”
Pittsburgh is hiring police recruits to start in the training academy in December, said Todd Siegel, director of the city’s Personnel and Civil Service Commission. Of the 52 recruits who entered the academy in March, seven identified themselves as racial minorities. Three said they were black.
Siegel declined to comment for the story, but his office provided a list of ideas on how it might increase the diversity of the applicant pool for police jobs. Some included establishing an “ambassador/mentor” program of officers to encourage people throughout the application process, recruiting in economically depressed cities with high minority populations, expanding pre-test preparation to include practice with oral interviews and to increase recruitment at historically black universities and universities with criminal justice degrees.
Other ideas include offering extra points to Pittsburgh Public Schools graduates and possibly waiving college credit requirements based on years served for current law enforcement officers or honorably discharged military veterans.
City leaders plan to form a diversity advisory board to discuss how to increase minority hiring, mayoral spokesman Tim McNulty said.
“The mayor has been working since the first days of his administration on ways to increase diversity within public safety,” McNulty said. “Some productive steps have been taken, but more needs to be done, and he will keep working with the advisory board, officials in his personnel and law departments — as well as the city’s new police chief, once the position is filled — on the efforts. In short, the city workforce needs to look like the city.”
There is time to put the ideas in action, at least in police hiring. The city follows state civil service laws to hire police officers by establishing an eligibility list based on written and oral examinations scores, then hiring from the top of that list.
The current eligibility list expires in October 2015, Siegel said. There were 86 black applicants among the 755 people on that list, he said.
McNulty said the city plans to offer a written exam next summer.
Walczak said about 20 percent of applicants for police jobs in Pittsburgh are black, but many end up toward the bottom of the eligibility list.
“Any efforts to attract a larger pool of candidates would be a good thing, but that doesn’t address the issue of whether the selection process is discriminatory, as we’ve alleged,” Walczak said.
Diversity in the police ranks has long been an issue for city leaders. A court-ordered consent decree from 1975-91 required the city to hire one white woman, one black man and one black woman for every white man hired as an officer.
In 2007, then-Mayor Luke Ravenstahl hired Tamiko Stanley as assistant director of the personnel department and equal employment officer, with the goal of increasing the number of minorities in the city’s workforce through the DiverseCity 365 initiative, a job-application outreach program.
Stanley now works as the assistant director of the Pittsburgh Partnership in the personnel department, and DiverseCity 365 is no longer active as officials prepare long-term plans for diversity initiatives, Siegel said.
Margaret Harding is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-8519 or firstname.lastname@example.org.