Posted on May 7, 2018

Despite Hiring Push, Chicago Police Still Falling Short in Attracting Black Officers

Dan Hinkel and Jennifer Smith Richards, Chicago Tribune, May 4, 2018

Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration has consistently stressed its intent to diversify the Chicago Police Department during its push to add more than 1,000 cops and change the image of a force beleaguered by controversial shootings of black men by white officers.

The city succeeded at bringing black candidates into the early stages of the hiring process. Thirty-eight percent of applicants were African-Americans the last time the department held a police exam, a City Hall news release noted last October.


In fact, while the department made a net gain of nearly 800 officers between October 2016 and the end of March 2018, the percentage of African-Americans on the force dropped slightly, according to a Tribune analysis of department data.

African-Americans — who historically have had a strained relationship with the Police Department — make up close to a third of Chicago’s population but only about a fifth of the police force.

Department officials say a large percentage of African-Americans who apply for a job with the department simply don’t show up to take the entrance test.

Black politicians, meanwhile, allege that African-Americans who do pass the exam are often unfairly screened out of the hiring process by restrictions on indebtedness, the college credit requirement and psychological testing, among other factors.

The department’s failure to hire black police in proportion to the city’s population is a stubborn problem that could grow more challenging if African-Americans continue to flee the Chicago area as they have in recent years, according to census figures. {snip}

South Side Ald. Anthony Beale said the department needs to rework its background check and reconsider its rule that recruits have to hold the equivalent typically of two years of college, among other measures.

“I don’t care if you have 80 percent African-Americans going to take the test,” he said. “You’re still going to have the same percentage (hired).”

But Barbara West, chief of the department’s Bureau of Organizational Development, said the main challenge to improving the department’s diversity remains getting African-American applicants to follow through and take the examination. When the department last held an exam in December, 44 percent of the blacks who had applied didn’t show up, she said.


Though African-Americans are underrepresented on the force, the Emanuel administration often points to diversity in the department’s top ranks. Indeed, as of March, half of the 24 highest-ranking officers — including Superintendent Eddie Johnson — were black.


The late 2015 court-ordered release of the video showing white Officer Jason Van Dyke shooting the black teen 16 times sparked calls for Emanuel’s resignation and unleashed a torrent of grievances about the Police Department, particularly from African-Americans. An investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice eventually echoed what black Chicagoans have said for decades — that the department had allowed “racially discriminatory conduct” and used force disproportionately against minorities.

Meanwhile, gun violence spiked in 2016 as some 4,300 people were shot and more than 760 were killed, making it the deadliest year in nearly two decades. Some, including Emanuel, blamed surging crime in part on cops’ limiting their activity to avoid getting caught up in any incidents that might stoke public outrage.


Over and over, Emanuel has stressed the importance of diversity as he seeks to expand the department while also aiming to improve its relationship with black Chicagoans. The city has paid out at least $167,500 to a contractor, Brown Farmer Media Group, to recruit minority applicants for recent tests, city records show.

“Chicago’s greatest asset is our diversity, and with each class of recruits CPD reflects that and uses it to serve our city,” Emanuel said in a statement in January.

But the department still falls far short of reflecting the city’s demographics.

Among the officers hired in 2017 and 2018 whose race was included on the most recent roster, only 14.3 percent were black. Overall, African-Americans make up about 20.5 percent of officers whose race the department provided. That’s down from 21.9 percent in 2016. Blacks make up about 30 percent of the city’s population.

Meanwhile, departures by black officers have also hurt African-American representation on the force. Between late 2016 and 2018, about 30 percent of the approximately 950 officers who dropped off of department rosters were African-American, indicating they either departed the force or moved to units with covert officers. That indicates black cops left the department in numbers that were disproportionate to their representation on the force.


West, who is African-American, said the department has tried to make the hiring process accessible to everyone. The city recently eliminated the $30 fee to take the exam and started offering test preparation, she noted. The department has also been sending text and email reminders to applicants to show up for the test, West said.

The department has surveyed people who didn’t show up for the test, West said, and candidates gave reasons ranging from forgetting to go to accepting other jobs in the interim.


Chicago mirrors cities across the country that have struggled to hire more black officers.

West Side Ald. Chris Taliaferro, a former Chicago cop who is African-American, echoed his City Council colleague Beale in saying the department should consider changes to the hiring process. Taliaferro said he did not pass the department’s psychological test on his first attempt and joined the department in 1994 with only a high school diploma. The college credit requirement did not exist then.


A spokesman for Emanuel, Julienn Kaviar, said the administration is “committed to ensuring the police department reflects the diversity of our city.


Some within the department have complained that increased scrutiny over officers’ conduct has made an already dangerous job less appealing. Northwest Side Ald. Nicholas Sposato, a former firefighter, said he felt the city had made a “yeoman’s effort” to hire cops but that a climate of hostility toward police has driven retirements and hampered hiring efforts.


While struggling to increase the rolls of black officers, the department has boosted its Latino ranks, adding more than 500 officers identified as Hispanic. As of the end of March, the department was 25.7 percent Hispanic, up from 23.3 percent in late 2016.

West said that Hispanic candidates have had a lower no-show rate than African-Americans — under 30 percent — for two recent tests.

About 19 percent of white applicants failed to show up for the most recent police exam, department officials said.