Low number of black recruits at Pittsburgh police raises concern
The Black Political Empowerment Project is calling on city and police officials in Pittsburgh to immediately review officer recruitment after a report showed just 4% of the latest recruit class was African-American, according to a letter released Monday.
Tim Stevens, executive director of B-PEP, wrote in the letter dated July 11 of his “serious disappointment” that there were only four black men among an 84-person recruit class.
“We’re not talking about who sells you a shirt in Macy’s department store or who sells you a refrigerator at Home Depot,” he said. “When you come to something as sensitive as the awesome power a police officer has … the presence of a diverse workforce is even more important.”
Pittsburgh’s population is about 25% black. The city’s 879-person police department is 13.31% black, according to the bureau’s 2018 statistical report released this month.
The latest recruit class makes the department less diverse, bringing the percentage of black officers to 12.56%. The numbers are an improvement over 2017, when less than 10% of the department was black, according to the 2017 annual report.
Police Chief Scott Schubert pointed to community outreach efforts within the department, including the Citizens Police Academy, Student Police Academy, a summer camp program and a joint program with Westinghouse High School.
“The bureau wants a more diverse police force,” Schubert said. “Of course, here in Pittsburgh we are facing the same issues and challenges as other major city police departments in terms of recruiting.”
Lack of diversity within the department is not a new problem.
A 1975 federal injunction mandated what would be known as the 1-in-4 rule: For every four police officers hired, they had to include a white man, a white woman, a black man and a black woman.
The mandate came after the judge found that in 1974 African-Americans made up 17% of the city’s labor force but less than 6% of the police force. The judge found a four-year period in which no black officers were hired and, at the time of the injunction, a woman had not been hired in five years.
The injunction was dissolved in 1991.
The city in 2015 settled a three-year lawsuit filed by the ACLU in which five black plaintiffs alleged discriminatory hiring practices by the bureau. City officials denied the allegations though at the time acknowledged “that the hiring practices need to be updated and improved.”
City officials at the time touted new recruitment efforts they implemented after the settlement, including a dedicated recruitment website, a mentorship program and information sessions throughout the city.
Tim McNulty, spokesman for Mayor Bill Peduto’s office, said there has been an increased focus on using the internet and social media to reach as many potential applicants as possible, recruiters appear at job fairs across the city.
“Despite these efforts, it is clear the numbers of minority recruits are not in line with the makeup of the city as they should be, and more needs to be done,” McNulty said.
Stevens applauded those recent efforts, noting that he’s attended previous recruit graduations at which African-Americans and other people of color made up more than 18% of the class.
“To drop to this percentage is a setback,” he said. “You can’t call it anything less than a setback.”
Megan Guza is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Megan at 412-380-8519, [email protected] or via Twitter .