BY CHRISTINE CARRIE FIEN
While most everyone has been celebrating the indisputably good news that minority participation in the Rochester Police Department is up, I remembered a fact I learned not long ago: that many, if not most, of the RPD’s minority recruits traditionally come from the suburbs, not the city.
That’s true of the current recruit class. Sixteen of the 28 recruits — 57 percent — represent minority populations. (That’s the highest percentage anyone can remember, by the way. Historically, it’s been below 25 percent.) But only six of those 16 live in the city.
When people talk about the tension between segments of the city population and the police department, they talk about race, yes, but also class, economics, and a lack of geographic and, more important, cultural knowledge of the city. Put race aside, and don’t those other issues still apply? A Latino from Gates isn’t more likely to have an intuitive understanding of the city simply because he or she is Latino, right?
I ran my argument by Mayor Tom Richards and City Council President Lovely Warren, with interesting results. Both said that finding qualified minorities in the city can be a challenge: they might not be able to pass the entrance exam, or they might have criminal records, to cite two examples.
“I’ve got to get people in here who can qualify for these jobs and are prepared for them,” Richards said. “I suppose you could say that if I took some guy off the corner of Conkey and Clifford, he would know more about that neighborhood. But I can’t get him in to be a policeman in today’s environment. You have to have a whole bunch of things to qualify and, quite frankly, we need that, because we’re putting a lot of faith and confidence in these people.”
But Richards said that place of origin aside, it’s important for city residents to see people who look like them on the police force. He also mentioned the public safety school being formed this year, which will help city students obtain careers in police, fire, and emergency communications.
Warren said that some of the minority recruits are relatively recent transplants from the city and maintain their city roots and ties.
It’s against state law to require members of the police and fire departments to live in the city. Rochester was able to get around that this year by requiring RFD applicants to reside in the city in order to take the entrance exam. After applicants passed the exam and were sworn in, they could move anywhere they wanted, Richards said.
Partly as a result of that tactic, many more city residents came out to take the fire exam than in past years. But the situation with the RPD is a bit different, Richards and Warren said, because the requirements are different. And the fear and animosity some in the city have for police do keep people from joining.
There may be ways to incorporate some of what the RFD did — the whole recruitment process was overhauled — into the RPD, Richards said, and the city might look into that.