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Not Enough Black Police Recruits, Says NAACP

TRENTON, NJ —The New Jersey State police department has come under criticism from the state chapter of the NAACP for not having enough black cadets in this year's recruit class.  The first class of recruits in two years reports for training today and only five of the 123 recruits will be black. This is a striking failure in the division’s decade-long effort to achieve greater diversity.

Black News, African American News, Minority News, Civil Rights News, Discrimination, Racism, Racial Equality, Bias, Equality, Afro American NewsNow the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, which settled discrimination claims with the state police in 2000 to force greater minority recruitment, says it will return to court to argue the state has given only lip service to the problem.

And the governor’s office said the issue will get attention from the highest levels of state government.

"We are concerned with diversity in the state police ranks, and will be examining the matter with the attorney general and state police," said Michael Drewniak, spokesman for Gov. Chris Christie.

The NAACP’s vow of legal action reignites a contentious debate about why the state police struggles to enlist new black troopers. While minorities like Hispanics have gained ground in the past 11 years, the percentage of black troopers has fallen from 8 percent to 6.4 percent, state figures show.

With more than one-third of black troopers nearing retirement, their ranks are expected to thin to levels not seen since the division was under federal oversight for discriminatory hiring decades ago.

"It’s actually going backwards rather than forwards," said James Harris, president of the New Jersey chapter of the NAACP. "The state doesn’t keep its promises."

Harris said the state should cancel the recruit class, but Attorney General Paula Dow, who oversees the state police, said it will proceed. The state police and the Attorney General’s Office said overall diversity is improving but acknowledged concern about the few black recruits.

"We will continue to partner with clergy, community leaders, and others to improve on those numbers," State Police Supt. Rick Fuentes said.

Attracting black recruits is a critical goal for the state police as it moves past a history of racial profiling and discrimination lawsuits. As minority recruiting backed by millions of dollars continues to fall short, there’s a new round of finger-pointing.

The NAACP says the state is not trying hard enough. The Attorney General’s Office says the African-American community is not referring enough qualified recruits. And the troopers union says the company that scores the written tests for recruits uses a secretive system that may exclude good black candidates.

"We’re not getting enough African Americans and we’re not getting the best candidates," State Troopers Fraternal Association President David Jones said. "The system is a complete farce because it’s not fair to anyone."

The new state police class, selected more than a year ago, is more diverse than the current 2,768 troopers. It is 72.4 percent white, 17.9 percent Hispanic, 4.9 percent Asian, 4.1 percent African-American and 0.8 percent Native American. It’s 88 percent male and 12 percent female. But the class is still less diverse than the state, which is 68.6 percent white and 13.7 percent black.

The state police has faced scrutiny on hiring minorities for decades. Before the NAACP lawsuit, the division was under watch by the U.S. Department of Justice from 1975 to 1992. Minorities now make up 17 percent of the force.

Attorney William Buckman, a longtime critic of the state police, said the division’s record on race leaves few reasons for blacks to sign up. "It doesn’t surprise me that there is possibly a widespread belief out there that it might not be as promising a career as advertised," he said.

The state police has tried to change that by sending troopers to black churches, colleges, job fairs and cultural events. It also courted African-American community leaders like the Rev. Jethro James of Paradise Baptist Church in Newark. James said it’s discouraging when he invites troopers to speak, but so few blacks make the class.

"I dangled a carrot at the end of the stick that was not there," James said. "That makes (the state police) look disingenuous."

The Rev. Reginald Jackson, executive director of the Black Ministers Council, said the division risks losing its progress on race relations by not wooing enough new black troopers.

The Attorney General’s Office said the community shares some blame for not referring more qualified candidates. "We need the community to step up," said Paul Loriquet, spokesman for Dow.

Of the 263 candidates for the incoming class who passed the written exam, 33 were black, the office said. Of those 33, six dropped out and 22 were disqualified for failing a background check, the office said.

Loriquet said recruits must detail their past — from unpaid tickets to criminal convictions — but many forget problems, don’t understand the questions or lie. "There are stringent guidelines, and we’re not going to soften that," he said.

Some things, like a drug conviction, prompt automatic disqualification. But others, such as a poor credit history, are part of a subjective review Harris said hurts blacks.
"If you were arrested for marijuana at age 15, and you’ve had a clean record ever since, that’s an eliminator," he said. "African-Americans are arrested and charged more frequently."

Harris said background checks and all other parts of the selection process must be reviewed. "The screening mechanism clearly has a component of bias," he said.
With the exception of background checks, the Attorney General’s Office declined to say how many blacks began the process for the new class and when they flunked out.

As part of the 2000 settlement with the NAACP, the state police agreed to revamp its written test and suspend the four-year college degree requirement that could unequally eliminate minorities. It also hired Connecticut-based APTMetrics, Inc. — which has been paid $2.2 million since 2000 — to score the test in a more fair way for minorities.

Jones, the troopers union president, said because the scoring system has not been disclosed, it’s impossible to tell if it is selecting the best black candidates with the cleanest backgrounds.

"I have been begging for years to get some transparency and accountability," he said. "We’ve been stonewalled in every attempt by the Attorney General’s Office."
George Gore, political chair of the state NAACP, agreed: "If no one tells you what the problem is, you can’t fix it."

Loriquet dismissed criticisms of the company. He said the Attorney General’s Office received no complaints and the NAACP agreed to use APTMetrics as part of the settlement.

Under the agreement, the NAACP can take the state back to court for not improving minority recruiting. "It’s back up at the top of my list," Gore said. 

STORY TAGS: Black News, African American News, Minority News, Civil Rights News, Discrimination, Racism, Racial Equality, Bias, Equality, Afro American News


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