Black cops vanishing in Philadelphia

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Officer Recruit Emmanuel Rodriguez practices defense tactics with instructor Stephen Dangerfield.

KELVIN NANCE thought he'd be the ideal Philadelphia police officer. After all, his parents are officers in the department.

He has a bachelor's degree in criminal justice from Kutztown University, whereas the department merely requires applicants to have 60 college-credit hours.

And although applicants must pass a basic physical-fitness test, Nance is fit enough to have won this year's Pennsylvania Golden Gloves boxing tournament in the 165-pound novice class division.

But Nance, 25, was rejected for entrance into the Police Academy in September after completing the yearlong application process.

Like other African-Americans who contacted the Daily News in response to an article last month about the city's declining number of black police recruits, Nance said he was turned away because he allegedly failed the psychological exam - the last step before the academy.

"They dig into your background and they look up everything they can about you, so I don't see how I'm not fit to be a police officer. It's a guessing game as to why I didn't get in," said Nance, who has never been arrested or diagnosed with a mental-health condition.

"I think they are trying to hinder African-Americans, because the numbers don't even add up at all. I could see if we made up 20, 30, 40 percent [of those admitted into the academy]. We don't even make up 10 percent of the classes that are coming out now," said Nance, who has reapplied and plans to pay for his own psychological evaluation to compare to the next one he takes from the department.

It's complicated

In Philadelphia, where 44 percent of the population is black, where the mayor and police commissioner are black and where the NAACP this week is holding its annual convention - the Police Department is curiously fading to white.

Since 2008, the year Mayor Nutter took office and appointed Charles Ramsey to lead the department, 1,229 police officers have been hired as recruits, according to department data provided to the Daily News.

The overwhelming majority of those hires - 788, or 64.1 percent - have been white. Meanwhile, 248 new hires, or 20.2 percent, have been black, and a little more than 15 percent have been Hispanic, Asian or of other races, according to the data.

Based on those numbers, the 6,300-officer department - which is currently 57 percent white, 33 percent black, 8 percent Hispanic and 1 percent Asian - likely will become even whiter in the years to come.

Ramsey predicted as much this spring after testifying before City Council during budget hearings.

He had said that finding qualified blacks to hire had become more difficult, in part because of national news reports of fatal clashes between black men and police officers - from Staten Island, N.Y., to Ferguson, Mo.

But the numbers provided by Ramsey's department indicate that the percentage of blacks being hired has lagged behind the percentage of whites far longer than recent news headlines, and has become something of a hallmark of the Nutter-Ramsey era.

Two years into Ramsey's watch, for example, of the 182 police recruits who entered the academy in February 2010 and graduated in October of that year, 68 percent were white, 17.6 percent were black and 14.3 percent were from other races.

The class that entered the academy in May and will graduate in January is 66.6 percent white, 16.7 percent black and 16.6 percent of other races.

Ramsey last week said his record on creating a diverse department "is a work in progress" and is being aided by newly hired recruiting strategist Sharon Cooke-Vargas, a retired U.S. Army master sergeant with 20 years of recruiting experience in the military.

"I think people are trying to look for simple answers to something that's complicated," he said.

"Numbers are numbers, but we do the best we can in an attempt to recruit. I can't explain every blip that may be there or numbers that don't jibe with what [some] may perceive as being what they ought to be," said Ramsey, adding that the largest number of applicants lost from all races is due to failing the fitness test.

"There's no reason for us not to want a more diverse work force, and we're doing what we can to try to achieve that."

Occupied territory?

The scene on the darkened East Germantown street quickly became chaotic as Philadelphia police officers tried to handcuff a prone black man, Tyree Carroll, 22, suspected of committing a drug offense in April.

Although Carroll was down, surrounded by officers and shouting for his grandmother, some of those cops kicked and punched him. As more officers arrived, more blows were landed and curses hurled at Carroll, who police said bit two officers.

Within a few minutes, even more cops converged on the scene, filmed on a bystander's phone on which a woman is heard talking to a man about what they perceive to be the cops' heavy-handed conduct.

"That's crazy. All white cops. Where the black cops at?" the man asks.

"It's two. It's 24 whites and two blacks. But it doesn't matter, they all on the same team," the woman replies.

The incident, posted on YouTube, is being investigated by the department's Internal Affairs Bureau.

Carroll's arrest could have played out on any Philadelphia street, where the lopsided white-to-black cop ratio is striking, some say.

"The growing absence of diversity is going to produce a big cultural disconnect in this city," said Philadelphia NAACP President Rodney Muhammad.

"You're going to have the indigenous people of a given community being policed by someone who not only doesn't live in that community but doesn't even belong culturally to that social group," he said.

"When it comes to black and white, too many of our residents begin to feel that they're in occupied territory rather than being the beneficiaries of what would be good community policing," Muhammad said. "I'm afraid for our city."

Police Department recruiter Cooke-Vargas, who has a booth at the NAACP convention, said she is working to secure funding for strategic ad placements targeting diverse markets, developing radio public-service announcements and stepping up visits to events and job fairs that attract African-Americans.

Many police departments in the country, she said, are where Philadelphia is - trying to find officers of color.

"I look at those numbers, but I'm looking forward as to how we can bring those percentages up," she said.

"I think that we can move this department into a diverse department. We're community-oriented, that's where we're moving," she said. "We want people to join Philly P.D. and be the difference."

'Not good enough'

Since 2008, more than three times as many whites have been accepted into Philadelphia's police academy as blacks. Why that's the case is a question that so far has no answer.

Some critics of the Police Department's diversity efforts believe that Ramsey's 2013 policy of requiring new hires to have 60 college credit hours could be making it harder to find black recruits, because fewer blacks go to college and many who do aren't inclined to go into policing.

"It looks good on the face of it. It looks like they are trying to build an intelligent police force," Muhammad said. "But I don't know of any black man who would survive two years of college and would be thinking about putting on a gun and going out in the street. I'm sure they would be thinking about another kind of career."

Some believe that the state-mandated psychological exam and the psychologists who evaluate the exams and the applicants are potentially biased against blacks, accounting for seemingly solid candidates like Nance being washed out.

An applicant who fails cannot retake the psychological exam, but the polygraph and physical-fitness tests can be retaken. No explanation or reason for why an applicant failed the "psych" is given, beyond that he or she is not fit to serve.

Aja Williford, who is black, said she cried the day she was given that news in May. She was told that her psychological exam came back "inconclusive," barring her from entering the police academy.

"The answers that I gave were truthful and honest," said Williford, 25, who works as an aide to adults with disabilities and as a part-time hairstylist. "It took me a while to really get that through my psyche that they were telling me that I was not good enough."

Williford, who has three uncles who are Philly cops and an aunt who is retired from the department, said she asked friends on the force what could have derailed her and was told that possibly her evaluator thought she was still grieving - for her grandmother, who died last year and her parents who died when she was a teenager. She'll never know.

Deputy Mayor Everett Gillison, who spoke on behalf of Mayor Nutter, said he was proud that standards to become a cop have been raised under Nutter, while every effort is being made to hire recruits of all races.

Police Department data showing that more than three times as many whites than blacks have been recruited during Nutter's two terms represent a snapshot in time, said Gillison, who is black.

"I look at numbers as only one aspect," he said. "I don't think the story is that there are less African-Americans today than there were yesterday. I think the question is: Are there people that are being washed out of the system that shouldn't be?

"And that's the question that we have always challenged ourselves with over the last seven and a half years that I've been deputy mayor. And the answer is, 'No.' "

'Just as smart'

David Fisher, president of the greater Philadelphia chapter of the National Black Police Association, said black applicants are being washed out during background checks and psychological evaluations through means that are hard to detect.

Many are put in "limbo status" to repair their credit and are forgotten about, he said.

"Until you change the mentality of the background investigator, you're going to still put out the same product," he said.

Ramsey said he was not aware of "anything that might be in the [psych] test that might prove to have an adverse effect on people of color."

He said it was too early to know if his college-credit policy was adversely impacting the number of blacks being recruited. But the policy is staying, he said.

"I think we do a disservice to young people by having them go through school thinking that they can get good-paying jobs without looking at least at some level of college work," Ramsey said.

"I also think it's an embarrassment to think that you have to lower standards for young black and Latino kids in order for them to be successful," he added.

"That's not true. Our kids are just as smart as any other group of kids, and are capable of doing the same things that anybody else is capable of doing."


On Twitter: @MensahDean