Posted on Thu, Jul. 7, 2011
By Nathan Gorenstein
Inquirer Staff Writer
Pennsylvania State Police say they are ramping up efforts to recruit more black and Hispanic troopers, an attempt to get back to the fully integrated force that existed a decade ago – when a federal court was watching.
In 1999, the racial makeup of the state police nearly mirrored Pennsylvania’s – about 12 percent nonwhite. But as of May, the number of black state troopers had fallen to 158 on a force of 4,100, or about 3.8 percent.
Nonwhite troopers were never hired in significant numbers until a 1973 lawsuit produced a consent decree to add hundreds of black troopers. But the court oversight ended in 1999, veteran black troopers are now retiring, and few nonwhites have been hired to take their place over the last 10 years.
Black, Hispanic, and Asian troopers now total only 267, or 6.5 percent of the force. At the same time, Pennsylvania’s nonwhite population has grown to 18 percent.
State legislators, civil-rights advocates, and the state police are all unhappy about that disparity.
“Our administration wants to reflect the diversity of the community,” said Lt. Col. Kenneth F. Hill. “It’s an advantage for us to do that.”
Hill said six troopers were now assigned as full-time recruiters – some previously had been part-time – and three or four more recruiters would be added in the fall.
No one is predicting an easy time increasing diversity, and not just because court oversight ended.
Most troopers live and work in rural areas, a posting that may be unattractive to black candidates from Philadelphia, said the city NAACP’s president, J. Whyatt Mondesire. Successful applicants also have to live at the academy in Hershey for six months, while local police allow officers to live at home during training.
“There is a lot less interest in law enforcement careers now,” Mondesire said. “Maybe the danger, or the finances. Certainly people who have the wherewithal to pass the credit check and background check are the kind of people who get snapped up by private industry.”
Bob Stewart, a retired police chief now with the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives, said police departments throughout the nation often revert to old hiring patterns when a court ends oversight.
“I generally say I don’t think it’s particularly malevolent, but, during the period of time they are under a consent decree . . . the organization is willing to put more resources to make those goals.”
It’s hard for anyone to become a state trooper in Pennsylvania.
Data on 5,158 applicants from 2007 and 2008 showed that an earlier outreach program attracted more than 1,200 black, Hispanic, and Asian applicants.
But only 58 people, of all races, ultimately were named cadets. Only two, or 1.2 percent, were black. Four were Hispanic.
The current class of 94 cadets has seven blacks, four Hispanics, and one native Alaskan, for 12.7 percent nonwhite, said Hill, who took over as duty commissioner for administration and professional responsibility three months ago.
Goodman said he believes the force under Commissioner Frank Noonan is making a real effort.
Litigation “is a last resort . . . if we conclude the current administration is not acting sincerely and in good faith,” he said.
Contact staff writer Nathan Gorenstein at 215-854-2797 or firstname.lastname@example.org.