Chicago attempts to recruit more diverse police candidates. Will it work?

The Chicago Police Department announced that 70 percent of a new pool of police applicants are black, Asian, or Latino. But it remains to be seen how many of these applicants will pass the police test and be hired.

Charles Rex Arbogast/AP/File
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, left, and Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy appear at a news conference in Chicago on Nov. 24, 2015. The Chicago Police Department announced Tuesday that its pool of aspiring police officers has 13 percent more black, Latino, and Asian candidates.

The Chicago Police Department has announced a 13 percent jump in black, Hispanic, and Asian applicants to the police force, the first sign of partial progress within a partnership between the police, the city, and community leaders. 

The trust of Chicago communities in the police department is fractured along racial lines, and the police shooting of a young black man and ensuing protests have highlighted the problems. The city has since made video of the shooting public, but the effort to recruit more minority police officers is part of a joint effort by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the police, and community leaders.

Jedidiah Brown, president of the Chicago Young Leaders Alliance, has been active in helping recruit more applicants from minority backgrounds. He praised the applicants who came forward but said he worries that such applicants will not actually be hired.

"I think that the results are good – to have a 13 percent increase – but it is not a success until these individuals are hired," Mr. Brown says in a phone interview. "If they deliver on that I would be happy about that, but there again – this is surface stuff."

Although the changes within the Chicago police force are not yet substantive enough to satisfy advocates in Chicago, the larger share of minority applicants in the pool marks an unprecedented success for Chicago. The department announced in early November that hiring would begin for the first time since 2013, ABC Chicago reported. The 2013 call for applicants had yielded about 19,000 applying to join a force of about 12,500, but it did not represent the ethnic diversity of the city itself.

"At the end of the day we didn’t get the numbers we wanted as far as minorities are concerned, and it’s been a dynamic in this department that we’ve struggled with for a long time,” former Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy said of the 2013 process, according to The Christian Science Monitor. 

To encourage more young people from minority backgrounds to apply, police and city leaders contacted faith and community leaders and brought the recruiting process out of police headquarters for the first time, says Shari Runner, president of the Chicago Urban League, which helped with the recruiting process.

"We want all parts of the city to be represented in the Chicago Police Department," Mayor Emanuel told reporters, according to ABC Chicago. "The effort this time is to use and modernize – 21st century communication – so we're recruiting people where they live, where they work, where they socialize, in a way that we had not done before." 

People were impressed that police tried to make the process more accessible by setting up recruiting stations in their communities, where potential applicants could speak with police officers about the process, Ms. Runner says. Recruiters visited schools, as the process is supposed to prioritize graduates of the Chicago public school system and military veterans, and placed digital ads in English and Spanish. 

Their efforts resulted in a pool of 14,000 applicants, 70 percent of whom are black, Hispanic, or Asian, The Associated Press reported. The test is whether these applicants can pass the police test and be hired, and whether this shows the beginning of a cultural shift toward greater respect between communities and police, Runner says.

"There was definitely a show of good faith in order for them to recruit these applicants," Runner says. "Right now it looks like there is a real intention to diversify the police force."

Brown praised the community leaders who used their influence to increase the number of minority applicants but remains skeptical about the recruiting effort, wondering if it might not be simply a "political cover."

"I’m happy the applicants responded," he says. "I’m on standby for what the administration is going to do."

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