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Cedar Rapids Police Department boosts efforts to find minority applicants

Rick Smith, CR Gazette –

The Cedar Rapids Police Department here has upped its effort to identify minorities willing to apply and compete for a job as police officer.

The effort has met with some success: Among 228 applicants for police officer this year, 16, or 7 percent, identified themselves as a minority in a voluntary applicant survey, according to department statistics. The 16 consisted of nine African Americans, five Hispanics and two Asian-Americans.

A year ago, 10 of 221 applicants, or 4.5 percent, identified themselves as a minority. Among the 10 were five African Americans, three Hispanics, one Asian-American and one American Indian.

However, getting from applicant to Cedar Rapids police officer is no easy task.

Police Capt. Bernie Walther on Wednesday said the department anticipates it will hire only five or six new officers this summer from the applicant pool that started at 228. Last year’s hires numbered nine, including one minority, a female Hispanic, he said.

The department currently includes four African American officers, two Asian-Americans and one Hispanic.

As part of this year’s hiring effort, Walther said he talked with Chad Simmons, executive director of the non-profit Diversity Focus in Cedar Rapids, to see what the department could do to increase minority applicants.

The department then sent recruiters to historically black colleges with criminal justice programs in Tennessee, Kentucky and southern Missouri as well as to colleges in the Chicago area.

“We did get a good reception down there,” Walther said. “The real idea was to make those contacts with college professors and department chairs and say, ‘We’re interested.’”

The college departments were impressed with the salaries that police officers in Cedar Rapids make, he noted.

Walther said the department’s message at every college is the same: that students can’t wait until their senior year to stop smoking marijuana, getting picked up for drunken driving and losing their driver’s license and expect to make it through the police application process. An applicant in Cedar Rapids, for instance, must not have smoked marijuana for 24 months to qualify for hiring. An applicant must wait three years after a drunken-driving charge.

Walther said the Cedar Rapids department has put an added emphasis on minority hiring because minorities are underrepresented on the department and because the department is seeking to obtain national certification through the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement, which requires a department to set goals on minority recruitment.

“I feel encouraged,” he said with the slight uptick in minority applicants. The department now will review if and how minority applicants might have fallen out of the competition that is getting from 228 applicants to five or six new police hires.

Diversity Focus’ Simmons on Wednesday said his organization supports the Police Department and wants to help it find a way to have a diverse applicant pool.

“The thing we want to focus on is the applicant and interview process and what we can do to make sure the candidates are prepared,” Simmons said. “There are a lot of different ways for someone to get tripped up.”

Simmons said historically black colleges in the south attract students from all over the country, and students there very well might have grown up in the Midwest and would be attracted to a police job in Cedar Rapids.

Of this year’s 228 Cedar Rapids police applicants, 55 were disqualified because they did not meet minimum requirements. Some of those were rejected for recreational drug use in the last two years, Walther said.

A total of 172 were invited to take the department’s written test. Forty did not show up for the test, three withdrew before the test and 28 failed it. Another 26 failed the subsequent physical agility test.

Forty-seven applicants are currently continuing in the application process and undergoing polygraph testing.

In the end, Walther expected that the city’s Civil Service Commission will select 10 candidates for the hiring list and another five for a backup list. The list is in effect for a year.

The makeup of police departments can change, Walther noted. He remembered a time not so many years ago when the Cedar Rapids department had only a few females among its numbers. Today, 31 of the 203 officers are women, he said.

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