Few black police raises questions

By Gus Bode

Lack of blacks in police force raises questions

Only four blacks on force of 58

Blacks are grossly underrepresented in the Carbondale Police Department’s workforce, a problem city officials say they’re doing all they can to remedy.


Attempts to alleviate the problem are in response to a city ordinance adopted during the 70s, which set a goal for the city to represent Carbondale’s black population with the same percentage in the city’s workforce.

According to census figures, 17 percent of Carbondale residents are black. The Carbondale Police Department, however, employs only 6.6 percent blacks.

While the city meets the ordinance guidelines with 20 percent black representation, the police department has never met the 17 percent goal since the inception of the ordinance. City Manager Jeff Doherty admits this is accurate, but says many factors go into hiring police officers.

It’s a big issue to zero in on. I think you have to look at the bigger picture, Doherty said.

Do we want more minorities? Yes, we do. Are we looking into a way to recruit more? Yes, we are.

The city’s race relations with the black community came to a head last year at a block party where many black SIUC students were maced by police officers. The outcry afterward led to the formation of a task force designed to address racial tensions. The task force made recommendations, but to date no further action has been taken by city officials.

But Doherty doesn’t think race relations are poor or that there is a reason to be alarmed by the representation of black police officers working for the city. He said when looking at the number of black police officers, the labor pool the city has to offer must first be considered.


Currently, the police department employs four black police officers; one lieutenant, one sergeant and two patrol officers out of the department’s 58 sworn police officers.

The Carbondale Police Department requires potential officers to have an associate’s degree or 60 hours of college credit. This prerequisite whittles the city’s 17 percent of potential minority police officers down to about 6.2 percent, Police Chief R.T. Finney said.

Doherty said minorities account for less than 3 percent of all police officers nationwide, making recruitment competition high and retention difficult. He said many officers move on to work for the state and elsewhere because of higher pay.

Clarence Harmon, former mayor and police chief of St. Louis and current part-time employee of SIU’s Public Policy Institute, knows recruitment and retention woes first-hand. He thinks the city should focus not on the available labor pool, but on reflecting the city’s full minority numbers within its workforce.

When citizens see people like them, people who may have similar experiences as them, they feel better about [police interaction], Harmon said.

Minority representation dramatically affects how fair a community views it will be treated, Harmon said. When there is dissent within a community, nothing can be solved until the minority issues are addressed, Harmon said.

Devising a plan, maintaining a standard and recruiting within the community are ways to form a solid base to build on in the recruiting process, Harmon said.

Any city must actively and demonstrably show good effort to recruit and hire the most qualified among [local citizens], Harmon said.

The first black officer to be promoted in the Carbondale Police Department was Bob Scott, promoted to sergeant in 1991. Shortly after, another black officer, Sgt. Gerald Edwards, was denied promotion to the sergeant position.

This denial prompted Edwards to sue the city for racial discrimination in federal court. Edwards used the police department’s inability to meet the goals of the Affirmative Action ordinance against the city during his trial in East St. Louis. During the second day of the trial, Doherty chose to settle the lawsuit and promote Edwards to sergeant. The city dished out $150,000 to him in backpay.

Despite the low numbers of black officers on the force, Doherty and Finney both said the city has gone to great lengths to recruit minority officers, often revamping and analyzing the recruitment process to appeal to the greatest number of people.

Past recruitment efforts have included solicitation to programs and colleges in this area, the St. Louis area and Central Illinois, attending minority job fairs, advertising jobs outside of the area and sending out letters about testing, Finney said. The city tries to utilize minority officers in the recruitment process and also frequently reviews the recruiting process by sending surveys to prior applicants.

Finney said they have even added a community service officer position that would potentially allow more of the community’s minority population to be represented.

A community service officer’s duties would mimic those of the SIU Saluki patrol. The position would offer employment to individuals 16 to 21 years of age who are without the required college hours to actually serve, with a particular focus on hiring from minority members of the Carbondale community, Finney said.

Finney said the community service officer’s positions would be paid, part-time positions that allow the time and extra cash that earning a degree to meet the department’s requirements affords. Finney hopes the new plan will be implemented when the budget’s fiscal year begins in May.

I don’t think people realize how much we are doing, Finney said.

Doherty said they’ve also opened the door to officers working elsewhere who have the experience but not the credit hours.

City Councilman Brad Cole recognizes that the lack of minority representation is a problem but says it’s not intentional and it’s not going unnoticed.

I don’t think we should try to hit a specific number and stop I think we should try to hire as many qualified individuals as we can, Cole said.

Harmon recognizes the efforts being made by the city manager and police chief, but contends that recruiting minority police officers takes more than the average recruiting effort.

I think [Doherty and Finney] are earnest, but I think the whole effort needs to get serious, Harmon said.

The St. Louis Police Department goes to the extent of traveling to historically black colleges in the South and other colleges to search for potential minority officers, Harmon said.

It’s not easy to recruit police it’s not easy and it’s not inexpensive, but if you are committed to diversity then it is the extent a city will go to benefit its community, Harmon said.

Harmon said police departments are not the only professions affected by tough recruitment times. Fire departments and EMS have gotten stuck in the same hiring rut.

Even large departments have recruiting difficulties. Currently, the New York Fire Department is seeking to diversify its department. CNN reported that 93 percent of the department is made up of white males.

New York City officials plan to launch a multimillion-dollar effort to attract minority firefighters. The message would be spread via television and billboard ad campaigns with firefighters distributing informational posters and fliers to churches, colleges and high schools.

Finney said he is not satisfied with the number of minorities and would like to see more minority representation within the police force, but added that he doesn’t think the low numbers affect relations between police officers and citizens.

I don’t know if it’d make any major difference if [the police department] was African-American or Hispanic or Caucasian, Finney said.

Finney said part of the problem surrounds the stigma of the police profession. He said many people come to Carbondale with a tainted perception of police and that notion is what affects relations.

Milton McDaniel, member of the local NAACP, said the Carbondale community has blacks with the required number of credit hours to work for the police department but they choose not to seek out employment there.

I’m wondering why minorities are not applying there. I’m wondering if there’s some sort of stigmatism, McDaniel said. One must feel comfortable where he/she works.

McDaniel also believes the 60 hours of college credit is a requirement that should be compared to other cities of our size.

I’m not saying they ought to drop their standard, I’m just saying look into it, McDaniel said.

The prerequisites are something Cole thinks the community should be proud of.

I think it’s fair. Basically, what we are saying is we want an educated police force, Cole said.

McDaniel said he is not privileged to know all the reasons why there is a lack of minority representation but he hopes that everyone is pondering the reasons behind it.

There ought to be a question in everybody’s mind, both the city and the police department, as well as the citizens why aren’t the young minorities applying for positions at the Carbondale Police Department?, McDaniel said.

Reporter Sara Hooker can be reached at [email protected]