Affirmative Inaction

It took just ten minutes in front of a U.S. Civil Rights Commission panel on police practices, held last May in the wake of the Amadou Diallo shooting, for Rudy Giuliani to be asked the $64,000 question, the one at the heart of the city’s current race-relations quagmire: Do New York’s men and women in blue racially reflect the city they’re supposed to serve? After cutting off his questioner and telling hecklers to show him some respect, the mayor made a rare, candid admission. “The New York City Police Department’s force does not represent the diverse population of the city,” he said. “It never has.” To rectify this, he promised a $10 million recruitment initiative – “a very, very large advertising campaign, in order to urge citizens of the city, including members of all the different minority groups, to apply to become police officers.”

Flash forward a year, and the number of total applicants in the current drive has barely broken 7,000 – half the amount of the previous recruitment drive, and a quarter of what it was in 1996. To add insult to injury, this month the Los Angeles Police Department (in the midst of its own corruption scandals) recruited for a week at John Jay College and walked away with 1,613 applicants – mostly, the recruiters told New York, people of color.

The L.A. recruitment stunt got a lot of ink, but it resonates not just for the obvious Diallo- and Patrick Dorismond-related reasons. The NYPD’s recruitment effort is weakest with African-Americans, who make up more than 30 percent of the city population but just under 14 percent of the police force. Hispanics make up 17.1 percent of the NYPD and 27.9 percent of the city (although, as Giuliani was quick to point out, many of those counted in the Census aren’t yet citizens). It’s hard to imagine any of these numbers improving in the current climate; Commissioner Howard Safir, true to form, blamed the low numbers on recent bad press. (The LAPD should have such bad press!) And yet even that can’t explain why the stats have been stagnant for more than two decades – a period when the LAPD and other police forces have dramatically diversified, first and foremost because they had to.

The NYPD may offer money and promises, but diversity is not a legal requirement. In Miami, a 1971 judicial consent decree demanded that the police force more accurately reflect the city’s racial makeup. “When the consent decree was filed, there were 685 Anglo males, 74 black males, and 61 Hispanic males, and almost no females,” remembers Lieutenant Craig McQueen, the Miami Police Department’s recruitment commander. “Now there are 525 Hispanic males, 225 black males, and 205 Anglo males, plus plenty of females.” That’s a police force almost 49 percent Hispanic – and more than 34 percent black.

The Los Angeles diversity drama played out a decade later, spurred by a consent decree in 1980. “It requires 25 percent of the officers out of our academy classes to be female,” says Commander Betty Kelepecz, the LAPD’s commanding officer of personnel. “The City Council raised that figure to a goal of 40 percent on the force, and we decided on numbers for Hispanics and blacks.” Every year, the force must submit reports to the city government on its progress; and since 1980, L.A.’s force has jumped from 6.2 to 14 percent African-American, and from 9.8 to 33 percent Hispanic. “My two lead recruiters in New York were both African-American,” says Sergeant Bill Frio, who heads the LAPD’s recruitment. “I have Hispanic recruiters, gay and lesbian recruiters, Asians. They can say, ‘This is what my life is like out there in the LAPD.’ “

It’s this direct approach that’s most lacking in the NYPD sales pitch. “Recruitment has to be about more than just handing out an application,” argues Detective Terrance Wansley, a co-founder of 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement Who Care, a group of New York officers. “It has to be about mentoring.” Last year, Wansley’s group offered to advise the NYPD’s new recruitment effort. They were turned down.

Affirmative Inaction