How many black cops? Fewer than it appears

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November 12, 2002 // UPDATED 1:33 pm - April 30, 2007
By: Kevin Featherly
Kevin Featherly

21 black female cops? After the city rechecks its numbers, it turns out that in an 843-officer force, there are only four. One critic calls the city's figures misleading -- at best.

A summer of racial tension, including a deadly shootout between a black woman and a white cop in a Southwest high-rise and street violence on the north side, brought renewed attention to the racial disparities between the Minneapolis police force and the city's population.

After the summer's tempers cooled, neighborhoods demanded that the city send more black police, putting, as some said, "faces that look like ours" on the beat. That mirrors a key recommendation to rebuild the Civilian Review Authority.

As such, it's not hard to imagine someone trying to research just how many black police officers the city says it has on its force; Black Police Officers' Association spokesman Ron Edwards has been trying.

"It's important to us in our community," Edwards said, adding that he thinks the city doesn't "have anywhere near the numbers [of black officers] that the public is led to believe."

As it turns out, the numbers are fairly difficult to pin down, using the available public data. But for black police officers, the city's already-meager numbers have recently been revised downward.

Open to interpretation The city's Human Resources Department keeps the official figures. That department's affirmative action officer, George Caldwell, must annually certify minority police levels with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Caldwell's most recent numbers showed Minneapolis had 1,147 workers in "police protection" jobs as of June 30, 2001.

Caldwell's March 11 staff-utilization report to the City Council, under the generic heading "police," seems to suggest there were 58 black policemen as of Dec. 31, 2001, and 21 black female officers.

Caldwell's numbers are the standard used by the rest of city government. Said Vanne Owen Hayes, city Civil Rights Department director, "If I wanted that information, that's who I would call."

EEOC official Joachim Neckere declined to confirm Caldwell's figures, citing Congress-imposed data confidentiality.

However, the certified figures overstate the number of sworn officers -- what most people think of as cops. The 1,147 workers include 304 civilians, including office workers, forensic scientists and other non-sworn employees.

Contacted in October, Chuck Bernardi, a city workforce planning coordinator, said there were 843 Minneapolis police officers. Of those, he said 45 -- not 58 --were African American men; only four, not 21, were black women.

(Police department figures, received a month later, were higher; the department had 853 sworn officers, and one more black male officer, for a total of 50.)

City Councilmember Barb Johnson (4th ward), chair of the council's Ways and Means/Budget Committee, said she knew at a glance that the utilization report did not refer to only sworn officers, and that there was nothing misleading about it. "I know how many police officers we have," she said. "These are police department employees."

But the report does not say so specifically. Seizing on the higher figures, Edwards complained to the Civil Services Commission, demanding an investigation into Caldwell's decision to federally certify 21 black female cops on the police force.

"At best, it represents a significant level of incompetence," Edwards said. "At worst it represents significant corruption. That is extremely dangerous and unhealthy."

Edwards said he thinks the city might be fudging its numbers to attract federal block grants from sources such as the U.S. Justice Department's Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS).

The COPS office emphasized "police integrity" and "community-representative recruitment and hiring" while distributing $7.6 million in grants nationwide this year. The Minneapolis police received the maximum single-city award of $125,000.

City and police officials interviewed for this story said they know of no federal law-enforcement block grants for which meeting minority goals is a direct qualification. But Johnson suggested it might be an indirect requirement.

"I would bet you that when you send in your [grant] application, that is one of the pieces of information that is asked," she said.

Asked for comment about the apparent discrepancies, Police Chief Robert Olson said he knew nothing about them. "Human Resources is supposed to keep track of those numbers," Olson said. "Where they got the number 21, I don't know."

Then there were four ... At one point, Caldwell appeared confused about how many black women were on the police force.

After Edwards complained, Caldwell said he verified the numbers. He obtained a document titled "List of Sworn Minority Female Personnel in the Minneapolis Police Department" that Caldwell said "probably" came from the police department, though it bears no contact information. It verified that 21 black women were serving as cops.

On June 27, Caldwell told the Civil Services Commission he had reviewed the data. According to the meeting's minutes, he said the figure of 21 black female officers "is accurate by the way the city currently categorizes employees in protective services jobs."

However, Caldwell pledged to investigate further. On Sept. 12, he reversed himself. He told commissioners he had learned there really were only four black women on the force. Someone had misread the EEOC's "protective services" guidelines, he said.

Caldwell said many of the women likely are clerks, 911 dispatchers, city attorney's office personnel, civilian administrators and safety staff, or may occupy other non-sworn positions. By EEOC definitions, all are "protective services" workers holding "police protection" jobs, Caldwell said.

Even though the EEOC format is arguably even less clear than the City Council report, Caldwell said he is adapting EEOC as his personnel-tracking standard.

Caldwell acknowledged the new format might make it harder for the public to discern police minority staffing. However, he said informing the public is not the primary reason the data is compiled.

"The purpose of these documents ... was to provide the City Council with baseline information about the departments, and how well they are doing in terms of the goals they had set," he said.

Falling backwards Is the city meeting its goals? Yes, for both sworn and civilian personnel, according to police department figures.

The police department reached the city's goal of 16 percent minority officers as of Dec. 31, 2001, according to city personnel documents.

According to the November 2002 police figures, 16.1 percent of sworn officers are black, Latino, Asian or Native American. The figure is 17.2 percent among civilian employees.

A more fundamental question -- especially for those who want to see the police force look more like Minneapolis -- is whether the goals are high enough. In the 2002 Priorities Report, the police department indicates that a main challenge is to maintain "appropriate staffing levels" by hiring and retaining a "quality and diverse work force."

However, Minneapolis' black-officer percentage is not representative: 5.8 percent, in a city that is 18 percent African-American, according to the 2000 Census.

The number of black cops in Minneapolis may also be shrinking.

In January 2000, City Pages reported that the department had 58 black sworn officers on its payroll. The November police data shows a loss of eight, or 14 percent, of black cops in less than three years.

But Edwards says even the department's lower number is wrong. The Black Police Officers' Association keeps its own tallies, he said, and the organization counts only 46 black officers, not 50, he said.

Councilmember Johnson said improving minority recruitment is difficult because becoming a police officer requires college-level training for one of the most difficult, professionally demanding jobs in the world.

"I think it's problematic in the city of Minneapolis, when we graduate 28 percent of the young African American men who enter the 9th grade," she said. "Our pool of candidates is damaged by that."

No excuses Still, Inspector Don Harris, who spent six months as commander of the department's new-officer training unit, is critical of any police department, including his own, that fails to diversify.

"I think people are of this mindset that to diversify is some huge mountain that needs to be climbed," Harris said. "And I don't think that it is."

Harris, recently promoted to 5th Precinct commander, said his recruitment strategy was to involve officers, administrators, detectives, even average citizens, in finding quality recruit prospects and fostering their hopes as future police officers.

"I think that you need to get hold of people who understand what work needs to be done to accomplish the goal and then you need to do it," he said. "It's not as hard as people make it out to be."