Portland police gave an update on the plan to address racial profiling before the city’s Community and Police Relations Committee, showing that it had made some progress, but still has work to do.
In 2009, the city released its plan to address racial profiling. It called on the police bureau to change its hiring practices in order to diversify its ranks, improve officer training, foster more interaction between the police and the community, and analyze traffic stop data to get a better scope of the issue.
The committee, composed of both police and citizen members, heard from Assistant Chief Larry O’Dea, also a committee member, on Wednesday of what the bureau had done to change its hiring practices to bring greater diversity to it, leaving updates on other portions of the plan for a later date.
The plan called on the bureau to have 10 percent of its new hires in 2009 be either women or ethnic minorities.
O’Dea told the committee that 12.3 percent of new hires were female, surpassing the bureau’s goal. However, only 7.1 percent of new hires were minorities.
“So we did make some improvements in that time frame,” he said.
He also reported that 40 percent of individuals who signed up for the initial police exam were minorities, up from 26 percent in 2008.
O’Dea said that the bureau sent recruiters down to Los Angeles last February to look for potential hires. Past efforts hadn’t been particularly fruitful, with candidates reluctant to uproot themselves. But this time was different, he said, because of the poor economy.
He also described other changes the bureau has made in its hiring policies aimed at removing barriers to minority applicants.
The bureau once required two years of college for all applicants, but now allows individuals who’ve had experience working for the city, the military, or as a reserve volunteer to apply.
Part of the plan also calls for expediting the background check process, which sometimes can take the better part of year and turn off potential applicants, according to O’Dea. He also said that he would be consulting with retired and current minority police officers to see how the hiring process could be improved.
When other committee members asked what the current racial breakdown of the police force is, he said he didn’t have the numbers on hand. He also noted that he wasn’t sure how many hires the bureau would make since it is under-funded by $2.5 million, but expected it to be substantial because 87 officers will be eligible for retirement this summer.
“We’ve got a great list we want to start hiring off of, but need to make sure they’re not over hiring,” he said.
The committee also discussed the potential of recruiting from the Police Bureau’s Cadet program, which Commander Mike Crebs, a committee members, likened to “a boy scout program for police.”
Cadets’ ages range from 16 through 21, and learn the basics of law enforcement from police officers. All three of the police members of the committee noted that its ranks are very diverse, attract community-minded individuals, and could be a rich source for future police officers.
“A reoccurring thing is people want to see Portlanders born and raised in Portland become police officers,” he said.
During the public comment period, Dan Handelman of Portland Copwatch, said that conversation the committee was having was interesting, but the bureau wasn’t pursuing its objectives in other key areas.
He noted that police Chief Mike Reese recently hired Portland Business Alliance Vice President Mike Kuykendall to an assistant chief job earlier this month.
His organization and the Albina Ministerial Alliance, a coalition of historically black churches, faulted Reese for hiring Kuykendall without any community input and not hiring someone of color for the key position.