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CPD exam applicants are 71 percent minorities after outreach effort

Thousands of applicants waited in long lines to take a Chicago Police Department exam at McCormick Place in December 2010. | Sun-Times file photo

An unprecedented outreach campaign to diversify the Chicago Police Department has attracted 14,200 applicants for the April 16 police exam — and of those, 29 percent are African-American and 39 percent are Hispanic.

The video played around the world of white Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke pumping 16 rounds into the body of black teenager Laquan McDonald prompted Mayor Rahm Emanuel to fire Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy. It also triggered a federal civil rights investigation of the Chicago Police Department.

Chicago recorded more homicides during the month of January than it has in at least 16 years, in part, some say, because of the defensive crouch that many Chicago Police officers have adopted to avoid being captured on the next You Tube video. Police stops are also down dramatically because of the two-page form that police officers are required to fill out as a result of an agreement with the American Civil Liberties Union.

But it appears that none of those factors had the chilling effect on minority outreach that political observers feared they would.

Of the 14,200 applicants who will sit for the April 16 police exam at McCormick Place, 71 percent are minorities. That’s a 13 percent improvement from the last outreach campaign.

The 2013 police exam was the first since the age requirement was reduced and the education requirement was eliminated.

It attracted a record 19,897 applicants who were 46 percent white (9,167); 29.3 percent Hispanic (5,836); 22 percent African-American (4,433); and 2 percent Asian-American (461).

Compared to that group, the new pool of would-be Chicago Police officers includes a 10-percentage-point surge in the number of Hispanics and a 7-percentage point surge in the number of black applicants.

Emanuel was pleased.

“To continue restoring trust between police and communities across Chicago, we must build a police force that represents the diversity of the entire city,” the mayor was quoted as saying in a press release.

“That is what this recruitment campaign successfully aimed to do. And we will continue to find more ways to make our neighborhoods safer and our city stronger.”

Ald. Anthony Beale (9th), former chairman of the City Council’s Police Committee, has argued that the Chicago Police Department will remain disproportionately white — and crime-fighting will suffer because of it — unless changes are made to the independently administered background checks and psychological exams.

Beale has called psychological exams the “tools used to weed out and disqualify minorities and keep out people of color.”

On Monday, Beale said he would withold judgment until he sees final hiring numbers.

“You can have 30 percent minority applicants and only five percent of the actual hires. I want to follow it and see what the end result is. It’s good that the minority numbers are up. But, as they go through the entire process, I’m worried that, once again, African-Americans will get weeded out of the process through background checks and the psychological exam,” he said.

Although the number of black applicants rose by seven percentage points over 2013, Beale said he has no doubt that “all of the negativeness going on with police getting such a bad wrap and the Justice Department coming in” did discourage some people from applying.

“I’m sure it had a negative effect on the numbers. It could have been a lot higher,” the alderman said.

Last fall, the Chicago Sun-Times disclosed that a communications management firm founded by Emanuel’s longtime friend and former White House colleague David Axelrod was chosen to conduct a $100,000 minority outreach campaign aimed at diversifying the Police Department.

Axelrod has long since sold his interest in ASGK, renamed Kivvit after a recent merger. But the firm still has deep ties to Emanuel.

In addition to the consulting fee, the city set aside $50,000 for radio, television and digital advertising.

On Monday, Emanuel noted that the three-month recruitment campaign researched “national best practices” and used a “variety of tactics,” including visits to churches, schools and community events.

Campaign materials were developed in both English and Spanish. Radio stations, social media and digital ads were also used to spread the word about a job with a starting annual salary of $47,604 that balloons to $72,510 after just 18 months.

Interim Police Superintendent John Escalante noted that candidates who pass the exam, get hired by the city and survive five months of training at the police academy will be joining a Police Department that makes community policing a “top priority.”

“Our officers don’t just patrol a neighborhood. They are part of a neighborhood. They don’t just protect a community. They are partners with communities. With a police force that reflects the makeup of the city, we’ll be better positioned to successfully practice community policing,” Escalante was quoted as saying in the press release.

Last year, McCarthy shot down Beale’s claim that background checks and psychological exams administered to police candidates are the “tools used to weed out and disqualify” minorities.

“That’s absurd. . . . Absolutely absurd. There are standards. We have to give psychological exams to people who we’re going to give guns to. I don’t think that’s something we could possibly get away from,” McCarthy said.

But, McCarthy readily acknowledged that the Police Department was fighting an uphill battle in its effort to attract a police force that mirrors the city’s diverse population.

He noted that, prior to the 2013 police exam that attracted a record 19,000 applicants, the Police Department put together an attractive young team of officers to fan out across the city and speak at schools, churches and community events.

“We didn’t get the [black and Hispanic] numbers coming in that we wanted. . . . It has a lot to do with what’s happening in the world today. . . . You know what’s happening across the country and how people are looking at policing right now,” he said.

“When I’ve spoken to a lot of our African-American officers, they tell stories about losing a lot of friends when they became police officers. At the end of the day, that has to be overcome. That’s part of the reason why we’re embarking on this community relations strategy building that we’re doing right now.”

Hiring and promotions in the Police and Fire Departments have generated controversy in Chicago for as long as anyone can remember.

The criticism reached a crescendo in 1994 after a sergeants exam produced just five minority promotions out of 114.

The test was the first to be administered by the city after “race-norming” — the practice of adjusting scores on the basis of race — was ruled unconstitutional.

In November 2005, City Hall announced plans to offer the police entrance exam a record four times the following year — and for the first time on the Internet — after an unprecedented outreach campaign that bolstered the number of minority applicants to 34 percent black, 24 percent Hispanic and 26 percent women.

More than two years later, black ministers told then-newly-appointed Police Supt. Jody Weis that if he were serious about re-establishing trust between police and the black community, he should start by hiring and promoting more African Americans.

In 2010, the Chicago Police Department seriously considered the idea of scrapping the police entrance exam altogether to bolster minority hiring, save millions on test preparation and avert costly legal battles that have dogged the exam process for decades.

If the process had been opened to everyone who applied and met the minimum education and residency requirements, Chicago would have been virtually alone among major cities.

The idea was ultimately scrapped after police experts and union leaders denounced the idea on grounds that a background check and psychological exam alone would not, as the CPD’s former personnel chief Brad Woods put it, “eliminate some people who should not be there.”

More recently, Emanuel imposed a hiring preference for Chicago Public School graduates that infuriated firefighters.

Overall, the Chicago Police Department is 48.5 percent white; 27.5 percent black; 20.7 percent Hispanic; and 2.5 percent Asian.

But the higher you climb in the ranks, the whiter it gets.