Washington NAACP pushing for more minority cops, firefighters

The city has no minorities in the police and fire departments

July 2, 2014
Dean Ellis, center, speaks to Washington police Chief Chris Luppino, left, and fire Chief Linn Brookman while Phyillis Waller listens during a special meeting to discuss the lack of minorities in the city police and fire departments. - Mike Jones / Observer-Reporter Order a Print

The lack of minorities within Washington’s police force and fire department prompted the formation of a small committee of city officials, community leaders and residents to discuss what is needed to recruit them for service.

But different members debated whether the blame falls on poor recruitment tactics by city officials or a lack of interest in those positions within the black community.

None of the 23 full-time firefighters and 31 police officers are minorities, and none are on the civil service eligibility list that funnels candidates to job openings for both departments. The police department has not hired a black officer in nearly 30 years and most recently had one on the roster about a decade ago.

“At some point, you have to look at these hires and feel a sense of urgency,” city resident Dean Ellis said.

“When your (civil service) link doesn’t produce any candidates from the second largest ethnic group in the city, then the chain is broken.”

Members of the civil service commission that attended Wednesday afternoon’s preliminary committee meeting at City Hall said they have had no minorities take the test in the past decade. The testing session every two years puts candidates in scoring order for them to be selected for open positions.

Fire Chief Linn Brookman said he attempted to recruit at the high school, local churches and the LeMoyne Center, and pushed for leaders there to bring forward people who were interested in the job. He received no feedback during the process, he said, and it yielded no minority candidates.

“Did I ever get a phone call? No one called me,” Brookman said. “I followed it back up and the people said no one was interested.”

Police Chief Chris Luppino added that rigid civil service requirements placed on municipalities make it impossible for departments to openly recruit without candidates going through the testing process.

“I’m open for ideas, but the Pennsylvania process makes it very, very difficult for us to recruit,” Luppino said.

NAACP Washington County Branch President Robert Griffin said it was time for the city and community to work together to target and encourage minority candidates for service. He noted that they should make an effort to build a “diverse pool” of candidates within the civil service list so that minorities are considered when job openings appear.

“There should be a sense of urgency and it should be a priority for the city to have a police force and fire department that represents the demographics of the population, and right now it doesn’t,” Griffin said. “There needs to be a commitment from the city to reach out to minority populations.”

Doing that won’t be easy, although Griffin initiated the conversation with Mayor Brenda Davis last month to organize a meeting with all parties. Davis said she would like for the city to partner with the NAACP to help with recruitment efforts to motivate minorities to apply for the test.

“This is much larger than testing,” Griffin said. “It can be done, but we need to have the collective will to do it.”

The discussion coincides with the city’s civil service commission preparation to rewrite standards, although most of the regulations are mandated by state law and can’t be changed. Chairman Ray Natili said is a lengthy process and the commission he oversees will attempt to listen to all sides.

“This is not a small task that we’re assigned here,” Natili said. “This is a huge, huge job to write (new) state-mandated civil service rules. We’re going to need help, recommendations and ideas from everybody. … I want to see something where we can be proud of and with the exchange ideas.”

The committee plans to continue discussing ideas and pushing recruitment before the next civil service exam, which is scheduled for September.

Mike Jones has been a news reporter since 2005, covering crime, state and municipal government, education and energy. In addition to working at the Observer-Reporter, he also has spent time at the Charleston (W.Va.) Daily Mail and Patch.com. He holds a journalism degree from West Virginia University.

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