Federal Rule Blocks Recruiting Police Officers from Outside Buffalo

Brian Meyer, Buffalo News, October 26, 2007

When Buffalo searched for a “different breed of officer” to take its first police exam in seven years, it cast a nationwide net.

The city contacted military groups across the country and used a Web site to urge people from outside the city to take the April 7 test.

Officials said that 2,684 people took the exam and that more than 2,200 had passing grades. Among the successful test-takers were 1,270 residents from outside the city, including 100 who live outside Western New York. They were hoping they would be among as many as 300 people who could be hired as officers over the next several years.

As it turns out, though, only those applicants who lived in Buffalo at the time they applied to take the exam will be eligible for consideration. City officials disclosed this week that federal overseers are mandating such a policy.

Brown insisted the city has no choice but to comply. Buffalo has been under a court order for three decades to diversify its Police and Fire departments.

While city attorneys say the federal mandate spanning that time period is complex, in general terms the city aims for a hiring ratio of about one minority for every seven hires.

After the results of the April police exam were reviewed, [Mayor Byron W.] Brown said, federal overseers determined that the only way the diversity mandate could be achieved is by hiring from a list of test-takers who reside in Buffalo.

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The top attorney in City Hall said there has been “constant dialogue” with federal officials since the test results came out. Alisa A. Lukasiewicz said the only way the Justice Department was going to validate the exam was if hiring was done off a preferred list of city residents.

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Test applicants were given notice that Buffalo remains under a federal court order governing hiring and that preference might have to be given to city residents, Human Resources Commissioner Leonard A. Matarese said. No one was trying to hide that possibility, he said.

{snip}scored in the top third, and I was looking to be considered.”

The city decided in January to delay its police exam and expand its search for officers because officials were concerned that the applicant pool might not be large enough to comply with federal hiring mandates. It intensified recruitment in the city and expanded the geographic scope of its search. It decided to let candidates from outside the region take the test. Originally, applicants were required to live in one of the Western New York counties.

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Buffalo officials are not taking any chances with the next firefighters exam, scheduled for March 22. Only city residents who can document 90 days of uninterrupted residence within Buffalo are eligible to take the test.

As for the city’s plan to hire police officers, candidates will have to go through other steps before being selected for the Police Academy. Applicants also will be required to undergo physical and psychological exams, a drug screening, polygraph and background checks, and an oral interview, city officials said.

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