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Settlement sought in Pittsburgh police-hiring lawsuit

| Wednesday, May 1, 2013, 9:11 a.m.

Five men who claim the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police discriminates against blacks in its hiring practices are trying to settle a federal lawsuit against the city, lawyers said on Tuesday.

Vic Walczak, legal director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania, and city Solicitor Dan Regan said they're attempting to reach a resolution and asked U.S. District Judge David Cercone to stay the case.

The lawsuit filed in August claims that each step of the police bureau's hiring process disproportionately eliminates minority candidates — including blacks — and favors whites. The suit notes that since 2001, the city has hired 440 entry-level police officers, but only 17 are black.

“What we do know, at the end of the day, is that the numbers are indefensible,” Walczak said.

Regan said that the city is committed to improving the diversity of its workforce and, though it denies the complaints lodged in this case, that it is interested in talking about the issue instead of rushing to trial.

“We look at this particular litigation as an opportunity to see if there's some possible resolution to the claims raised,” he said.

The city on Tuesday asked Cercone to dismiss the case because it had valid reasons not to hire each of the five plaintiffs in the case — criminal histories, failed psychiatric exams or other reasons.

Walczak said the files the city turned over for white candidates who were hired instead show that in several cases their backgrounds appeared to be worse.

“Our folks are choir boys compared to the files of some of the officers that were hired,” he said.

The plaintiffs identified flaws in the hiring process but are still gathering evidence, Walczak said.

Richard Freeman, president of the Pennsylvania Interfaith Impact Network, said he has several friends who were hired in the 1970s and early 1980s who told him that “when they retire, there will be virtually no people of color on the police force.”

The problem isn't new to the city. In 1975, a federal judge placed Pittsburgh under a quota system that required it to hire minority and female officers.

By the early 1990s, the percentage of minorities on the police force was close to the 28 percent minority population in the city at the time and another judge removed the quotas. Since then, the city has hired few minority officers, Freeman said.

Minorities comprise about 35 percent of Pittsburgh's estimated population of 307,484.

“We need a concerted effort rooted in the philosophy that a diverse police force improves our ability to police better,” he said.

Brian Bowling is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-325-4301 or bbowling@tribweb.com.

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