Huntsville Police Look to Diversify, Retain Recruits

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) –  In June 2012, promotions within the Huntsville police ranks marked two historic milestones within the department.  Former Lieutenant and precinct commander JesHenry Malone became the first African-American in Huntsville police history to be promoted to the position of captain. The same month after a 28-year career with Huntsville Police, former captain Sherry Jackson became the first woman in department history to hold the position of deputy chief.

The Huntsville Police Department is on a constant mission to diversify its force. A month ago at a city council meeting, a member of the public asked the city to specifically take a look at recruiting efforts and the demographic mix of the current police academy.

City Administrator John Hamilton made the promise to take a look at the current situation and report back, which he did at Thursday night’s council meeting.

“This class when it first started had 30 cadets in it – 27 of those were white and three were from minority groups,” Hamilton says.

These numbers obviously present a disparity – so Hamilton went about looking into how the department got there.  He started with the application process.

Hamilton says he found in the current academy more than 500 of 1,062 initial cadet applicants never showed up for the first physical agility test given just a few days after hopefuls submit an online academy application.

At the end of the application, testing, drug screening, interview and background check process which includes a polygraph test, there were only 20 minority and 92 white candidates remaining.

All remaining candidates were interviewed by a diverse panel in terms of background, rank structure, gender and racial mix.

“Both groups, minority and white,” Hamilton explains, “were offered jobs at the same rate coming out of the interview process which I think is a good sign. I think it’s a very fair process and a process that ensures we’re getting the most qualified candidates.”

Hamilton says while the city doesn’t have all the answers yet, he’s glad the conversation about diversifying the police force is an ongoing one. But he explains the goal is not diversity for diversity’s sake.

“We do not have any quotas and we don’t even sit down and establish goals – we do have the goal of having a good diverse workforce not just in the police department but across the entire city government. A diverse workforce is a healthier workforce,a more capable workforce not because of color of skin – it’s a better workforce because of the diversity of ideas.”

HPD newspaper recruitment advertisement from 1984.

HPD newspaper recruitment advertisement from 1984.

Hamilton says for many years HPD has conducted broad recruitment efforts in terms of working with radio and television stations, local churches and many civic organizations. There are a number of recruiting materials that are designed specifically to target both women and minorities – groups who historically have not heavily participated in police forces.

“That is something that we know we’ve got to do and we believe we’ve got to do it better,” Hamilton says.

Recruiting is one thing but counting on candidates actually following through –  let alone passing required tests and screenings – is another.

Hamilton says aside from those initial applicants, more than two-thirds, who simply didn’t show up for the agility test – many more wash out of the process through failure of physical, drug, polygraph and psychological testing.

HPD does not have a problem keeping officers once they are through the system, Hamilton says. He explains the people who make it through the police academy are there because they genuinely want to be. The internal promotion structure within the department is also a factor that helps retain officers once they are on the streets.

“They’re there because they really want to be there and that’s important,” says Hamilton. “It makes a difference in how they conduct themselves out on the street, it makes a difference in how they interact with the public and they are a highly motivated, capable workforce so we’re doing extremely well there.”

Hamilton has also conducted a study into female recruits for this academy class – there are six women in academy class 53.

Of 40 total conditional offers given to academy cadets, seven were offered to members of minority groups. Hamilton reports three of those seven washed out during the initial physical testing, one voluntarily withdrew and three failed a polygraph test.



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