City Seeks To Hire More Minority Officers

A new effort is underway to explore ways of attracting more minorities to serve on the Omaha Police force.

Here's the make up of the Omaha Police Department as of the end of September. Out of 766 officers, 628 or 82% are white, 71 or 9% are African-American and 52 or 7% are Hispanic.

In the 2000 census, African-Americans made up 13% of Omaha's population, yet just 9% of the police department. And the latest recruit class of 38 includes just three African-Americans.

In a department where the most public police officers are African-American, from the Omaha Police Chief to the police spokeswoman, there's debate over how to bring more African-Americans to the rank-and-file.

"They don't find you, you have to find them," says Omaha City Councilman Jim Suttle who's proposing to spend $50,000 to hire a professional recruiter to target not only north Omaha, but bigger cities.

"Let's figure out how we get the African-American recruits. If we need to go steal from Kansas City, Kansas or Kansas City, Missouri, I'm all in favor of that."

“The belief that we don't have qualified candidates here in Omaha is not factual,” says Omaha Police Officer Marlin McClarty, head of the Midwest Guardians, a union of black officers. “We do have qualified candidates here."

He believes this is the wrong way to address a growing problem

"Just because you're getting more candidates doesn't necessarily mean you're getting more qualified candidates,” says McClarty. "We all want qualified candidates."

“I don't think anybody that does any job wants to think that you're recruiting people that are unprepared to fulfill the needs of that job."

McClarty, a cop for 21 years, believes money would be better spent to examine the testing of recruits, from polygraphs to physicals to background checks, and whether the tools are somehow eliminating qualified African-Americans.

"If the mechanism is flawed, you can get as many candidates as you want to in the process, but the results will be the same,” says McClarty.

Few argue that the best recruiters are the officers themselves and the numbers of African-Americans are getting smaller.

Since 2003, Omaha has hired 131 new police officers. Seven of those new recruits are African-American and there were no African-American women.

The councilman's proposal is one of two resolutions on the agenda for Tuesday that centers on minority hiring within the police department.

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