COLUMBUS — The city is struggling to recruit minority police officer cadets at a time when its percentage of black officers is at the lowest level since the mid-1980s, when the city was under a court order to improve minority hiring.
About 13 percent of the department’s 1,842 sworn police officers are black. In 1988, 15 percent were black — the minimum level outlined by a federal judge.
Meanwhile, the city’s black population grew from 22.5 percent in 1990 to 24.5 percent in 2000, according the U.S. Census Bureau.
Police officials worry their diversity problem could worsen with the upcoming retirement of black officers recruited during 1970s and 1980s.
“If we do have an onslaught of black officers retiring, I think it will be difficult to recover,” said Sgt. Tony Wilson of the minority recruiting unit. “We don’t want another court order.”
Wilson and two other officers comprise Columbus’ minority recruiting unit. They try to encourage minority applicants by recruiting at community events and establishing personal relationships to better ensure that interested minority candidates actually show up to take an eligibility test.
Columbus’ difficulties are not unique, and cities nationwide are struggling to lure young people, especially minorities, said Joseph Akers, deputy director of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives.
“Any law enforcement agency should want to reflect the composition of its community,” Akers said.
“People are more likely to feel that they’ll get fair treatment and equal justice when they see some officers who look like them.”
Still other Ohio cities have had more success diversifying their police departments.
Cleveland and Cincinnati, which have larger black populations than Columbus, have higher percentages of black officers on their force. In Cleveland, 27 percent of police officers are black, and 33 percent of Cincinnati’s force is black.
Aside from community events, Wilson and his fellow recruiters have offered recruitment tests in Cleveland and Detroit.
But the ability to draw recruits doesn’t match with Columbus’ Ohio counterparts.
Cincinnati’s current recruiting class of 52 people has 19 blacks. By comparison, the academy class that was to start Monday for Columbus has three blacks among 59 recruits.