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New Washington police chief wants to increase representation of women, blacks on force

Saturday, May 25, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
 

More than half the people living in Washington are women and nearly two in 10 are black. Neither group, however, is represented in the city's police ranks.

“It's all just white male,” newly appointed police Chief Chris Luppino said of his 31-member staff. “I definitely want the force to be representative of the community we serve.”

That is a goal shared by Mayor Brenda Davis.

“I have to answer questions about that,” said Davis, who appointed Luppino chief on May 7.

Luppino plans to recruit women and minorities instead of only posting job openings in the newspaper — the standard practice, he said.

“I think we could do our part in going out recruiting and doing more community policing,” he said. “We need to get kids from an early age to want to grow up to be a Washington police officer.”

The Washington department isn't the only police agency struggling to be more diverse.

Despite pledges by the city to further integrate the Pittsburgh police bureau, the American Civil Liberties Union sued it last year claiming favoritism toward family and friends of police officers left little chance for minorities to get hired. Only 14, or 4 percent, of the 368 Pittsburgh police officers hired between 2001 and August were black, said Vic Walczak, legal director of ACLU Pennsylvania.

“It's nowhere near where it should be,” said Walczak, who is involved in the lawsuit.

About 80,000, or 26 percent, of the city's 307,000 residents, are black, according to census figures.

The police bureau's 2011 annual report showed 16 percent of its force was black, down from 25 percent in 2000. From 1975 to 1991, the city was under court order to hire one white woman, one black man and one black woman for every white man hired as a police officer.

State police in 2011 refocused their efforts on recruiting black and other minority troopers.

A 1973 federal lawsuit resulted in a consent decree for the agency to hire hundreds of black troopers so its ranks would better resemble the racial makeup of Pennsylvania. Court oversight ended in 1999. Ranks of nonwhite troopers fell from about 12 percent in 1999 to 6.5 percent today.

Pennsylvania's nonwhite population has grown to about 20 percent, according to the most recent census figures; 11.3 percent of the state's 12.74 million citizens are black, or 1.44 million.

Of Washington's 13,700 residents, about 2,200, or 15.9 percent, are black.

Luppino said Washington's force was more diversified when he joined 18 years ago. Of 42 applicants who applied last year to take the city's civil service exam required of prospective police officers, none was black. Three women applied. Only one passed, he said.

She is among the 30 others in the candidate pool for any openings before next year, when the process starts again.

“You can't do anything about them being able to pass the test,” Luppino said. “It's not fair to the department or the individual to make exceptions.”

Police and city officials ought to do something about hiring women and minorities, Walczak said, or they could face discrimination lawsuits.

“Recognizing the problem is a necessary first step,” he said. “But it's almost unconscionable you have a force that size with no minorities and no women.

“They need to start hiring. And they need to do it quickly.”

Jason Cato is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7936 or jcato@tribweb.com.

 

 
 


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