Hoping to end decades of tension over the advancement of minority officers, the Boston Police Department plans to overhaul a promotion system that has been criticized for contributing to a lack of diversity in the department’s upper ranks.
Commissioner Edward F. Davis is expected to send an e-mail to officers and command staff Thursday announcing a $2.2 million initiative to replace a written promotion exam used statewide with a testing system that could include interviews and other components designed to provide a broader measure of leadership and potential.
Among the department’s approximately two dozen captains—the highest rank determined by the promotion exam—there is one Asian and no blacks, Hispanics, or women.
“All you need to do is look at the numbers to see that something needs to be done,” Davis said. “We intend to take charge of this and to put a process in place that people will be satisfied with.”
In a statement, Mayor Thomas M. Menino said the initiative, which will be paid for by the city, underscores Boston’s commitment to a police department that better reflects the increasing racial and ethnic diversity of Boston.
The current examination consists entirely of multiple-choice questions. Results from the examination determine promotions to the ranks of sergeant, lieutenant, and captain.
The overhaul will not affect how the department hires rank-and-file officers.
A federal court declared in 1974 that Boston’s police and fire departments were so lacking in diversity that it imposed quotas on rank-and-file hiring, mandating that one minority candidate be hired for every white newcomer. That federal order was lifted after 30 years.
In February, nine black police officers sued the city, arguing that the written exam prevented them from receiving promotions they deserved.