Police Commissioner Bratton speaks with the NYPD Guardians about recruitment and
mentoring during Black History Month, February 2015.
I recently sat for an interview with a journalist named Donna Ladd. We provided her plentiful access and context, because she had an important story to tell—and she wrote two excellentarticles for The Guardian, “Inside William Bratton’s NYPD: Broken Windows Policing Is Here To Stay,” and “Life as a Black Cop: Caught Between Love for the NYPD and the People They Serve.” But a third Guardian article by Lauren Gambino, with whom I never spoke, provided a garbled account. Taking quotes from the Ladd article out of context and conflating two separate quotes, Gambino made it appear that I was blaming the difficulties that the NYPD has encountered in recruiting black officers solely on the regrettable fact that a lot of young blacks men have felony crime records. This is not my view at all, and I responded to it in a press conference (comments addressing the Guardian article begin at 1:04:40). Young men with felony records do reduce the available pool of black police candidates, and the national media has noted this effect on general hiring, as well. But our recruiting challenge stems much more from problems with our own recruiting system. They are problems that I am determined to solve, to make our recruitment process better than ever.
I’ve been investigating and working to improve NYPD minority recruitment since I came in the door as Police Commissionerbecause the NYPD is stronger when it looks more like the city it serves. On that count, this Department has done better than many others. The difficulties in recruiting blacks to police work are nationwide. Today, the NYPD is 15.4% black while New York City is about 26% black. That’s not good enough for Mayor de Blasio, or for me.
We are doing a lot to improve our minority recruitment and hiring efforts. One thing we cannot do, however, is compromise our expectations. At this moment, when the nation as a whole is holding officers to higher and higher standards, we cannot lower ours.
There are many challenges to hiring, but only a few automatic disqualifiers. Here are some things that are not disqualifiers:Having been arrested for a misdemeanor, having been issued a summons, and, most importantly, having been stopped under reasonable suspicion—in other words, stop, question and frisk. None of these is an automatic disqualifier for a police career.
Because of civil-service law, most felony convictions and domestic-violence incidents are automatic disqualifiers. We can’t change that. We don’t want to change that. So we’re concentrating on what we can change.
It’s no secret that there have been many problems with our hiring process. Ask any cop, regardless of race or gender— and he or she will tell you that the hiring process is too long and too impersonal. We wanted to fix that, and we wanted to make sure the process was fair.
When I was appointed, and even before I was sworn in, we began evaluating our hiring practices. Black representation in the Department’s ranks had been improving for several years,peaking at 16.5% of the all uniformed officers in 2010. But then it began to decline to where it is today, at 15.4%. Among new applicants, the rate of hire was 4.8% of all applicants, but 2.1% for black applicants. We also weren’t retaining qualified black candidates at the same rate as other qualified candidates. Only9% percent of black men who passed the test were finding their way into the Academy.
Since then, we have moved on multiple fronts to better understand the failings of the recruitment process and decisively improve it. The following initiatives have been completed or are currently under way.
• We deleted from the police officer application form of the question “Have you ever been stopped by the police for any reason.” Being stopped by the police is not and has never been a disqualifier for police employment, and the NYPD did not want the application to imply that it is.
• We conducted a survey of 11,000 applicants in the 2013 hiring process to try to determine the factors that caused applicants to discontinue the process. They cited barriers such as the length of the process, the lack of support for applicants, and the lack of transparency in the how the process works. Respondents reported not knowing why their application did not go forward, a lack of any communication from the department during the process, a lack of support from applicant processors,and a perception that application process was unfair.
• We’ve made increased efforts to minimize the length of the process. A process that sometimes extends for four years or more, from the time a prospective candidate takes the NYPD civil-service test to the time he or she gets hired, is unacceptable.
• We developed an online tutorial to assist candidates with the entrance exam, particularly the analytical questions.
• We contacted, by phone and in person, hundreds ofblack applicants who had discontinued the hiring process during the past four years, and encouragedthem to reopen their applications. Fifty-four have reopened applications thus far—this number is the equivalent to 58% of the black representation in the current incoming Police Academy class.
• We’ve reached out to and gotten a commitment from the NYPD Guardians Association, an NYPD fraternal organization for black officers, that their membership will help mentor applicants through the process, keeping them engaged and helping them to understand the necessary steps toward achieving appointment.
• We’re working on modernizing and automating what has been a paper process, allowing better tracking of applicants, more reliable notifications to applicants, more frequent contact between applicants and processing personnel, and better overall communication about the multiple steps in the hiring process.
• We have plans to establish an applicant customer-service center to assist applicants in every aspect of the hiring process and to answer any questions that applicants may have. This center is being designed based on examples in the private sector, and it will bring together various scattered aspects of the hiring process into one unified process, in one building.
• We’re working to make it easier for School Safety Agents to apply to be police officers. The hiring requirements for these two positions are different, but we’re developing an initiative to make our school safety training courses eligible for college credit, which will help school safety agents accumulate the 60 college credits necessary to apply to be a police officer. A large portion of our school safety agents are minorities and women, two groups whose representation in the police officer rank we want to expand, and many of them have shown a high aptitude for police-related work.
• We’re equipping all recruitment officers with mobile phone “customer service” apps to help them engage prospective candidates.
• We’re establishing an internal NYPD Diversity Task force under the First Deputy Commissioner to oversee the entire reform strategy.
Having a Department that reflects the diversity of the city it is privileged to serve is extremely important to me, and to Mayor de Blasio. We can’t afford to lose qualified recruits of any race,but especially not qualified black candidates. Over the past 18 months, it has become increasingly clear that mentoring candidates through the hiring process is tremendously importantin keeping them engaged. In February, during Black History Month, I met with black members of the Department to explore how to do this.
Mentoring is something that applicants who come from NYPD backgrounds have as a matter of course, because their fathers, mothers, uncles, aunts and siblings, as current or former police officers, know the process and its pitfalls and help them to understand the steps they have to take. Other applicants don’thave these advantages, and so we are working to build a support system for them. It might be as simple as keeping in touch with them by phone or email to keep them focused on the process. It might be a mentor who talks them through the process so they don’t become frustrated or feel the system is indifferent to them. When we see recruits falling out of the process, we want to be in a position to intervene and provide a safety net—something or someone to catch them. We are grateful to have partners like the NYPD Guardians Association to make this kind of mentoring a reality.
We now know a lot more about how and why we lose minority candidates, and I believe that we are in much better position to retain them in much greater numbers. The face of the NYPD will change as result, but our commitment to a safer, fairer New York City will not.
— William J. Bratton, Police Commissioner