Where are all the Black police recruits? Overall percentage of Blacks on Pittsburgh force trending down

THE PITTSBURGH BUREAU OF POLICE released this photo of the latest class of recruits, dated Aug. 5. This photo shows just one African American recruit, seated at far right.

by Christian Morrow and Rob Taylor Jr., Courier Staff Writers

In 2015 when the American Civil Liberties Union announced at a press conference that the city had settled a lawsuit over discriminatory hiring practices in the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police, industrial psychologist Leaetta Hough noted in her analysis that the previous hiring process was so rife with bias that it turned an average Black application rate of 20 percent into a 4 percent hiring rate.

Two weeks ago, Black Political Empowerment Project Chair Tim Stevens noted that, according to its 2018 annual report, released July 15, the Bureau graduated 84 recruits, four of them African Americans, or 4.7 percent. In a letter to the Bureau and the mayor, Stevens called the situation a “disappointment and a setback.”

It seems like that setback is continuing.

On Aug. 5, the Bureau posted a congratulatory salute to the second class of police recruits for 2019, noting it contains six women and seven veterans. However, this newest recruiting class, according to the photos posted by the Bureau, boasts just one African American. The New
burgh Courier could not confirm at press time if there were any other African American recruits for this class that were not pictured.

As the Courier reported July 17, the first graduating class of 2019 had three Black recruits. So, at best, the results for this year will be the same as last year—four new African American Pittsburgh police officers.

Reached by phone, Stevens told the Courier he found the news “very troubling, with a capital V.”

PITTSBURGH POLICE OFFICERS ERNEST HORTON, ANTHONY MITCHELL AND CALEB STEVENSON are the only Black officers to graduate from the Academy so far in 2019. (Photo by J.L. Martello)

“Obviously, our letter is only two weeks old, but in a year, they haven’t corrected anything,” he said. “A total of four for the second straight year continues this abysmal negative pattern, and it reinforces the need for the city to go above and beyond to find African American candidates.”

Police Chief Scott Schubert could not be reached for comment on the second 2019 class, but responding to Stevens’ letter, Chief Schubert said outreach efforts include its Summer Cops & Kids Camp program, its Citizens Police Academy, Student Police Academy and the Public Safety CTE program at Westinghouse High School.

The annual report also says the Bureau “regularly attends recruiting events with Human Relations & Civil Service at community events, churches, colleges, and convention centers in Pittsburgh and in surrounding states. In addition, HR&CS has continuous recruitment cycles, consistent with civil services laws, to shorten the time frame between recruitment and hiring.”

According to the Bureau’s 2018 annual report, there were 28 Black female and 89 Black male members of the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police (117 total), which accounted for 13 percent of the entire force.

That number of 13 percent is down from the 2010 data, which show that there were 47 Black female members and 96 Black male members of the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police (143 total), which accounted for 17 percent of the entire force.

It’s also important to note that in 2010, Pittsburgh had a Black police chief—Nate Harper.

From 2010 to 2018, the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police has seen its African American members drop by 26, or 4 percent.

“The Bureau wants a more diverse police force,” Mayor Bill Peduto’s office told the Courier in a statement provided by public information officer Chris Togneri, Aug. 6. “Of course, here in Pittsburgh we are facing the same issues and challenges as other major city Police Departments in terms of recruiting.

“We also understand that change doesn’t happen overnight. But we are committed to promoting diversity and inclusion, and our actions demonstrate that commitment.”

The statement also stressed that the Bureau’s commitment to inclusion begins at the Police Academy, “where every recruit is given Implicit Bias training to better understand the decisions we make as officers on a daily basis.

“Recruits also participate in the Inside-Out Program, in which they and active officers travel to local prisons, multiple times, for face-to-face conversations with inmates to help them understand​ why people offend and to help develop the guardian mindset,” the statement read. “We designed this program, in cooperation with Duquesne University, based on a model in which college students visit and interact with inmates. To our knowledge, the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police is the only police department in America that sends recruits and officers into prisons to take classes with inmates. Other regional departments will soon participate as well.”

Pittsburgh NAACP President Richard A. Stewart Jr. said the organization is actively talking to young African Americans about choosing law enforcement as a career. “It’s a good career,” Stewart said. “It’s what you make of it. Stop listening to that rhetoric out there, this is about what you want to do. I did it for 30-some years, I retired, I left a good mark as far as I’m concerned.”

Stewart spent a year and a half as a Pittsburgh police officer before being a member of the Allegheny County Sheriff’s department for 30 years before retiring in 2005.

Stewart said he feels the city is doing a better job in trying to recruit African Americans to become officers, “but we just can’t find enough Black recruits to consider taking the test or passing the test.”

Stewart added: “We gotta find a different way of getting at these young folks, something that they can sink their teeth into.”

Currently, there is a position posted for “Police Officer” on the City of Pittsburgh Careers page on its website: how to apply; where to apply; $15.41 per hour while in training; $44,710 first-year salary; requirements—60 college credits, valid driver’s license, clean record—testing, and more.

Stevens reiterated that B-PEP is open to meeting with the city and the Bureau to see what the community can do to help increase the number of Black applicants.

“It’s not all on them, but they have to take the lead,” he said. “I know that they are committed to this. But there’s a negative history with the police and a lot of emotion based on that.”

He said the community has to overcome that if it wants a diversified police force.

“We know there are a lot of Black people unemployed and some are not averse to being police officers,” he said. “The community has to realize that if someone puts themselves out there as an officer they have to be supportive enough, adult enough and fair enough not to call them ‘Uncle Toms’ or ‘turncoats.’ We have to be receptive of those who take the gamble to put their lives at risk.”

 

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