The Baton Rouge chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People called on local officials Friday to form a community oversight board that would create an “action plan” for recruiting more black and female police officers.
The panel also would ensure the Baton Rouge Police Department is adhering to provisions of a 1980 federal consent decree that was supposed to eliminate discriminatory hiring practices, said Kwame Asanté, the local NAACP chapter president.
Asanté said his organization will vote Monday evening on a resolution urging elected officials to ensure the Police Department is “diverse and as inclusive as possible.”
“We feel that the community should be reflected in our Police Department,” Asanté said at a news conference, flanked by Metro Councilwomen C. Denise Marcelle and Ronnie Edwards. “The NAACP is concerned that we have individuals who are applying to the Police Department that are qualified but, through the process, are screened out.”
The local NAACP is also asking Mayor-President Kip Holden to “make diversity and equality part of the interview process of hiring the next chief of police.”
Edwards voiced agreement with the NAACP’s stance.
“Whether it’s law enforcement or any other industry, typically you want people who are publicly serving the public to reflect the community,” Edwards said.
The consent decree received scant public attention over the past three decades, but was thrust to the forefront last month when ousted Police Chief Dewayne White brought it up during his termination hearing. In voicing his concerns over the treatment and termination of a black female officer, White asserted that the U.S. Justice Department had not been satisfied with the department’s efforts to recruit more minorities and women.
City-parish officials have disputed that claim and said they are working with federal authorities to resolve the decree.
Baton Rouge and nearly three dozen other Louisiana cities and parishes entered into the partial consent decree in 1980 to resolve claims of discriminatory hiring practices raised by the federal government. The consent decree barred the cities and parishes from discriminating against black and female applicants seeking to become police officers and firefighters.
The Baton Rouge Police Department currently consists of 682 officers; about 69 percent are white and 29 percent are black.
The 2010 Census showed the city’s population to be about 54.5 percent black and about 39.4 percent white. East Baton Rouge Parish’s labor force in 2011 was just over 42 percent black, according to data from the Louisiana Workforce Commission.
“We should have made more progress,” Marcelle said Friday, “and we need to know why we haven’t done that.”
Police officials have defended the department’s hiring standards, saying lowering the bar could compromise public safety.
Asanté said the NAACP will also host public forums to address the issue of diversity and to educate the community about the goals of the consent decree.
Holden declined to be interviewed on the consent decree, but issued a written statement in response to the news conference lauding the Police Department’s recruiting efforts.
“Our Police Department routinely speaks at jobs fairs at Southern University, local career academies and the military jobs fair in New Orleans,” Holden said in the statement. “We advertise positions in the local news media and through targeted public service announcements, radio and TV talk shows and personal outreach through the faith community.”