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EXCLUSIVE: Diversity in local law enforcement

February 27, 2019 11:46 AM

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) - Recent events involving police in Rochester and across the country have put a spotlight on diversity in law enforcement, or the lack of it. 

For years, law enforcement has been trying to increase diversity in its workforce. News10NBC's Nikki Rudd uncovered some statistics from local agencies that might surprise you. 

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"The consensus in the community is that the sheriff's office doesn't hire black people," said Monroe County Sheriff's Commander Janson McNair. 

Commander McNair is the first African American bureau chief in the department. 

"We have diversity. We don't have enough," said McNair. 

News10NBC looked into the diversity within the Monroe County Sheriff's Office. Nearly 93 percent of employees are white. Minorities make up only 7 percent.  

Compare that to Monroe County's population which is 74 percent white and 26 percent minority. 

"I think those are numbers that we need to change," said Commander McNair. 

How about the Rochester Police Department? RPD is nearly 75 percent white. However, the city's population is 43 percent white according to ACT Rochester, an initiative of the Rochester Area Community Foundation. 

"We certainly have work to do," said RPD Deputy Chief La'Ron Singletary. "We can be better."

RPD is federally mandated to hire one minority for every three white officers hired. However, Deputy Chief Singletary says fewer people of any race want to become police officers. 

"We need to have candidates walking through the door," said Deputy Chief Singletary. "We need to have candidates taking tests. That's how we got to figure out a way to get more minority candidates to the table."

The Greece Police Department is facing the same challenge. 

"The numbers for people of color are very, very low," said Greece Police Chief Pat Phelan. "That presents a significant challenge when we can't even get people to take the test."

Here's the racial breakdown of the Greece Police Department: It's 97 percent white. Only three percent of officers are minorities. However, minorities make up about 13 percent of the town's population. 

"Is three enough?" asked Nikki Rudd. 

"No. It's definitely not enough," replied Chief Phelan. "You'd like to kind of mirror your population, right?"

Chief Phelan hired the department's first African American female officer last fall. Officer Tiffani Gatson is in the academy now. 

"I think the best thing you can do to motivate people of color to work for your police department is to hire people of color," Chief Phelan said. 

So how do Greece and Rochester Police compare with other departments across the country? 

Here's the racial breakdown of local police departments according to the Department of Justice: 73 percent white, 27 percent minority. 

Again, RPD is 75 percent white, 25 percent minority. GPD is 97 percent white, 3 percent minority. 

 "We definitely have to take a look at how we conduct the civil service exam," Deputy Chief Singletary said. 

He and Chief Phelan believe the hiring process required by the state needs to change. 

"We're doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results," said Chief Phelan. "I think we ought to think outside the box and look at different options for hiring people." 

Back to the Monroe County Sheriff's Office, Commander McNair says under Sheriff Todd Baxter, they've changed their recruiting philosophy. In the past, the Sheriff's Office would look at candidates who apply who are minority. That has now changed. 

"We're going out into the community, and we're looking at folks who've never even considered a job in law enforcement," said Commander McNair. 

They even had a recruitment team at the pro-boxing debut of a fellow deputy at the Main Street Armory in Rochester earlier this month. 

Another question that has been brought up as law enforcement agencies try to increase minority numbers: Why does race matter? Why not get the best candidates? 

"I think you will see race does absolutely matter," said Commander McNair. "There are situations sometimes where there are cultural differences folks just don't understand, and I don't expect you to understand because you didn't live that." 

Here's a look at the breakdown of minorities in the Monroe County Sheriff's Office: 4 percent Black, 3 percent Hispanic and less than 1 percent Asian or American Indian.

The population of Monroe County is 15 percent Black. 

"You almost have to quadruple the number of black employees to mirror your community," Rudd told Commander McNair. 

"We do, and we're working at it," Commander McNair replied. "You've got to start somewhere." 

Here's how Monroe County compares to sheriff's offices across the country: Nationally, sheriff's offices are nearly 78 percent white (MCSO: 93 percent white), 22 percent minority (MCSO: 7 percent). 

 "Until we reach those numbers that we want, until our workforce mirrors or matches our community, we're not going to stop," said Commander McNair. "I'd like to exceed those numbers."

Click here for information on how to apply for the Monroe County Sheriff's Office.

Click here for information on how to apply for the RPD. 

Click here for information on how to apply for the GPD. 

Credits

Nikki Rudd

Copyright 2019 - WHEC-TV, LLC A Hubbard Broadcasting Company

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