The number of minority applicants to be Chicago cops is on the rise thanks to a push to make the Chicago Police Department more reflective of the city — but so far white recruits are still being hired at a greater pace, city records show.
The police department began a highly publicized effort to diversify its ranks and rebuild public trust after the court-ordered release of police dashcam video showed a white cop, Officer Jason Van Dyke, killing a 17-year-old African-American, Laquan McDonald, shooting him 16 times.
The October 2014 shooting on the Southwest Side — for which Van Dyke now awaits trial for first-degree murder — prompted days of protests, a Justice Department examination of the department and promises of reform. That included a push by the police department to seek out potential minority candidates to “Be The Change” they want to see and apply to become police officers.
In the four years prior to the release of the McDonald video in November 2015, African-Americans accounted for 12 percent of the 1,679 applicants hired as Chicago cops, records show. Whites accounted for half of all hires in that period.
That was the case even though the percentages of blacks and whites applying to the police department was far closer, with African-Americans accounting for about 28 percent of the applicant pool and whites about 32 percent.
Since the start of 2016, more than 54,000 people signed up to take the hiring exam, records examined by the Chicago Sun-Times show. African-American candidates made up 35 percent of the entire pool, Hispanics 32 percent and white applicants 20 percent.
In that period, the department hired 1,371 officers. Fourteen percent of them were black, 36 percent Hispanic and 41 percent white, the records show.
Though a slightly higher percentage of police hires were black and the percentage of new cops who are white was down, the percentage of African-Americans remains far below the city’s goal of matching Chicago’s demographic makeup — divided roughly in thirds among blacks, whites and Hispanics.
The ramped-up effort to recruit more minority cops included an $85,000 city contract awarded in 2016 to Deborah Farmer’s Brown Farmer Media Group for a campaign to attract African-Americans that has employed social media and ads on the CTA, as well as using community organizations and retired and current officers as recruiters.
From start to finish, the hiring process to become a police officer in Chicago can take more than a year, sometimes two. Those hired since the start of 2016 likely applied well before the department’s campaign to find more minority candidates, according to Barbara West, the department’s chief of organizational development. West says she expects coming hiring classes to include more minority cops.
“My hunch is, as we move forward through these next examinations, the processing of those, you’ll see the demographics reflect closer to what the city is,” she says.
Chicago Police Supt. Eddie Johnson says he wants to see his department reflect the city’s population, with equal representation of blacks, whites and Hispanics.
Johnson says the stagnation in minority hiring is the result in part of candidates not following through after signing up for the police entrance exam.
“People say to me all the time, ‘Superintendent, I want more people in my community that look like me,’ ” Johnson says. “And I agree. But the fact of it is, if I don’t have those people that take the test and go through the process, I can’t put ’em out there.
“Trust me, if those minorities want to change the way their communities are policed, take the test, go through the process. And I promise you I will put you out there. But you can’t just talk about it. You’ve got to be about it.”
The superintendent says that, for the past two exams, more than 70 percent of the approximately 7,000 test-takers — about half of the 14,000 who initially applied to take the exam — were categorized as a minority.
Ald. Anthony Beale (9th), who is on the City Council’s Public Safety Committee, says he doesn’t see the hiring process as friendly to minority candidates or people with lower-income backgrounds.
The process “is designed to hire everybody other than minorities,” Beale says. “It’s all smoke and mirrors. We’re going to give this perception that we’re reaching out to the minority communities and the African-American community.
“There’s this big push, and it looks good because we’re, on the face, having this big push,” the alderman says. “But, in the end, the results are the same.”
Beale says one of the department’s major “disqualifiers” is the psychological exam all prospective police officers must take, saying, “I’m being evaluated by someone who may or may not understand my community. If they ask you if you have ever seen somebody shot [or] have you ever heard gunshots, well, what are the odds that people in lower-class communities either haven’t seen somebody shot or have heard gunshots?
“They figure, ‘Well, something might be wrong with your psyche because you’ve had to deal with these things within your community.’ The whole process is unfair.”
Johnson responds: “The notion that the psychological exam disproportionately wipes out minorities is just not factual when we look at the data.”
The superintendent says “a lot of people got washed out for different reasons” in the hiring process.
Johnson says many minority candidates are eliminated by the physical fitness and credit-check portions of the hiring process.
He says the department has “put things in place” to see that fewer minority candidates are eliminated from consideration.
“We’re doing our best and making a lot of effort to help minorities get the job that they’re seeking, but they have to do their best to help themselves get the job also,” Johnson says.
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