Council concerned about police diversity

Jul. 18, 2014 @ 06:58 PM

On top of all the other questions about the Durham Police Department voiced in recent months, a trio of City Council members weighed in with their own worries about the diversity of the department’s hiring.

Council members Eddie Davis, Cora Cole-McFadden and Steve Schewel spoke up after noting during an event that the department’s latest crop of rookies is predominantly white.

The observation prompted comments from all three in the spring during a presentation from Police Chief Jose Lopez on the city’s quarterly crime statistics, and an informal, follow-up discussion between Davis and the chief.

“Obviously, we want everybody who is in those classes of young cadets to be qualified,” Davis said this week. “But in addition to that, I would certainly like to see a set of cadets that represents the population in Durham.”

He also alluded to the complaints about department practices officials have fielded from a variety of groups in the past year, “I don’t want the lack of diversity in these classes to be used by anyone to say we certainly are not sensitive to the needs and desires of the citizens of our community.”

Department officials acknowledge the issue.

“We feel the same way: We want the department to represent the population of Durham,” said Sgt. Tammy Schultz, who supervises recruiting efforts. “Right now, it’s not where we’d like it to be.”

The most recent crop of trainees, a group of 20 that has survived the basic law enforcement training program, is scheduled to graduate later this month.

Fourteen of the 20 are white, according to figures supplied by Lt. Brian Reitz, executive officer to Police Chief Jose Lopez. Four are black and two are Hispanic.

The graduates include three women, all of whom are white.

The class lost five of its members along the way. On hiring, it was 68 percent white; on graduation, it’s 70 percent white.

Those numbers, however, aren’t out of line with those of other classes from 2007 on, both before and after Lopez became chief.

The last two rookie classes that began training under his predecessor, former Police Chief Steve Chalmers, were 69 percent and 62 percent white on hiring, 64 percent and 55 percent white on graduation.

Since Lopez took over in the late summer of 2007, the percentage of whites in the rookie classes has fluctuated in a range, on hiring, of between 82 percent and 50 percent. On graduation, they’ve wound up in a range of 91 percent to 55 percent white.

All told, this month’s graduates will be the 12th group to begin and complete basic law enforcement training while Lopez has been chief. The department generally runs two rookie classes each year to keep its ranks full.

A U.S. Census Bureau survey in 2012 indicated that whites constitute a bit less than 49 percent of the city’s population. Blacks are the next-largest group, making up about 37 percent of the population.

About 13 percent of Durham’s residents claim Hispanic ancestry.

Lopez said department recruiters “are working very hard” to bolster minority hiring. He added that they face “the same challenges that all other police departments have in their recruiting.”

Schultz said recruiters work with N.C. Central University and other historically black colleges and universities to identify potential recruits, and advertise with media outlets that cater to minorities.

They also conduct regular job fairs, and even travel out of state to, among other things, talk to prospects who’ve been put out of work by layoffs in the public and private sectors.

But would-be rookies have to survive a battery of physical and written tests, plus a criminal background check, before they can be hired and begin their training. The field gets winnowed every step along the way, Schultz said, adding that “City Hall” also sets the number of recruits the department can hire for each class.

Lopez stressed that physical-conditioning requirements trip up many a would-be officer.

“When I recruit, I tell individuals to start running,” Lopez said. “If you can’t do it now, you’re not going to be able to do it in an academy six months from now.”