Pittsburgh Police diversity rises some
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Pittsburgh on Monday began training its most diverse class of police recruits in more than a decade, a step that Mayor Luke Ravenstahl called progress but that civil-rights advocates called a meager beginning to achieving racial balance in the police bureau.
The 41 cadets included five minorities, which Mr. Ravenstahl called an important step forward for a police bureau that -- according to its annual report -- was about 84 percent white last year.
However, Tim Stevens, chairman of the Black Political Empowerment Project, said it's "going to take a bigger deal than that to make a significant difference in the diversity of the Pittsburgh police department." He said black officers especially are needed in a city that was 26.1 percent black at the time of the 2010 census and that sometimes has racially tinged encounters between officers and civilians.
Vic Walczak, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, said, "It's progress, but the fact that they're heralding this as the best they've done demonstrates what a huge problem exists within the hiring process."
The city gave the following breakdown of minorities in the current class: a black man from Squirrel Hill, a black woman and an Indian woman from East Liberty, an Asian man from Wilkinsburg and a Hispanic man from Jacksonville, Fla. In all, nine of the cadets are women, one of them recruited from a welfare-to-work program.
Although the police complement fluctuates because of retirements and resignations, the bureau's 2011 annual report counted 870 officers -- 726 white, 134 black, two American Indian or Alaskan, four Asian or Pacific Islander and four Hispanic. About 710 officers were men.
Mr. Ravenstahl acknowledged the need to post still higher numbers of minority recruits, especially blacks, but said he's pleased with the progress so far.
"Our work is paying off," he said, citing an outreach campaign that included national advertising on law enforcement and diversity groups' websites and a visit by city officials, including police officers, at a New York job fair last fall. The new class includes three recruits from New York and one each from Maryland; New Jersey; Ohio; Erie; Harrison City, Westmoreland County; Monroeville; Oil City, Venango County; West Mifflin; and Verona.
Depending on their previous level of law-enforcement experience, individual cadets will graduate in September or March.
Because of the lack of diversity in past classes, the racial makeup of the current group is "nothing to brag about," Mr. Stevens said.
According to the annual report, the police bureau last year hired 36 recruits -- 29 white men, six white women and one black man. The most diverse class in recent history was a 2001 group that included two black men, two black women and three women overall.
While the city often loses officers to the suburbs, the current class includes 12 veteran officers from other communities. Mr. Ravenstahl didn't know why the 12 applied but said urban policing offers a special challenge.
Besides casting a wider net for applicants last year, the city also partnered with Community College of Allegheny County to offer a one-day test-preparation class to help prospective recruits through the police exam. About 400 people took the class, which was developed by the college's Community Education division.
"Time management is the biggest issue for adult learners. We aren't used to taking timed tests," said Sumana Misra-Zets, director of college and community diversity initiatives.
Ms. Misra-Zets said the college this spring put on a similar class for the city's prospective firefighter recruits and may do the same for prospective paramedics.
In all, more than 2,100 people registered for the police test, nearly double the previous record set in 1999, the city said. That test is used to create an ongoing eligibility list, which -- according to the police bureau's 2011 annual report -- had 909 names, including 140 minorities.
The city typically enrolls 35 to 40 cadets each class.
First Published August 21, 2012 12:00 am