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City Steps Up Effort to Increase Diversity in Emergency Services

By Rodney Brown


Career Pathways to Public Safety Class of

Career Pathways to Public Safety, Class of 2015

The Rochester Police Department (RPD) has been under a court-ordered federal consent decree, from the United States Department of Justice, to increase workforce diversity since 1975, after black employees filed a lawsuit over its hiring practices. The decree was part of a 1975 settlement involving racial discrimination.

And, today, although the city’s other emergency service providers, including its fire and ambulatory services, are not under a federal consent decree, the agencies have also been committed to the mayor’s top priority of increasing diversity amongst their department ranks.

As of February 2010, 77 percent of the police force was white (602 officers), compared to 24 percent who identified themselves as, black, Latino, Native American, or Asian (173 officers). Eighty-seven percent of the officers were non-residents (680 officers), while 13 percent were residents of the city (101 officers).

Since being elected to city council in 2007, in addition to while she was president of the council in 2011, Mayor Lovely Warren has both supported and created several programs to increase the number of minorities in emergency services.

In fact, under Warren’s leadership, officials said the city instituted the Career Pathways to Public Safety Program in 2012.

The public safety program is a partnership between the Rochester City School District, the city of Rochester, and the RPD, which the city uses to increase minority representation in its uniformed divisions, while increasing the awareness of career opportunities within public safety departments (i.e., the units involving police, fire, 911, and emergency responders).

The program currently offers all eleventh- and twelfth-grade RCSD students, who meet the identified criteria, an awareness and opportunity in choosing a career path in the field of public safety. The program has been designed to provide training and education in the fields of law enforcement, fire safety, and emergency services, as well as to assist students in becoming viable candidates for those fields, and to provide city entities with qualified and prepared candidates who are diverse, and hold local residency.

According to the city, Warren has also fostered a partnership with pastors from several churches, in order to help identify and recruit young minorities from their congregations, who may also be interested in a career in emergency services.

“I think we, as a church, view our city as our area of responsibility,” said Bishop Gregory Parris, pastor of Church of Love Faith Center. “We see this as an opportunity to make our city better, and not sit back and watch things happen. I think it’s important to have diversity, not ‘just’ for symbolism, but encouragement.”

In addition, after accepting a position as deputy chief of administration, RPD Officer Wayne Harris said he was given a directive to increase diversity, and identify areas where the department could make some changes. He was not only told to make changes in recruitment, but also in mentoring, and establishing relationships in the community.

“I was asked to see if we could develop a pipeline from the Career Pathways to Public Safety Program, as well as the Prep Program,” Harris stated. “One occurs in the RCSD, the other at Monroe Community College (MCC). We want to build a pipeline straight from them, into the ranks of the RPD.”

As a result, according to the city, over a four-year period of time, from 2010 to 2014, its recruitment of minority officers has increased by almost 50 percent. A total of 36 minority officers, compared to 26 white officers have been hired since 2010.

And, in terms of minorities, it’s been a ratio to rate increase of 45.1 percent, compared to the ratio to rate of previous graduating classes in the years leading up to 2010.

“We are making a concerted effort to make sure our residents know about employment opportunities within our public safety departments,” Mayor Warren stated. “We are always focused on the work. We streamline our message, and work hard to get our message out there, and get everything under control, as it pertains to the work that we are doing. Over the previous four years, pastors of local churches referred several of our new recruits to us. In the process, we hope to debunk the myth that it’s hard to find qualified minorities, right here in our city, as we move forward in our application to continue the work set before us that’s ordered in the 1975 federal consent decree.”

In addition, added Deputy Chief Harris, “If you are looking for someone that’s going to be very well-grounded, with good moral fiber; someone that’s invested in the community, that’s grown up in the community, and has not only family relationships, but faith-based relationships, the church is the best place to start. There’re a number of young men and women, in all of our churches, that are wonderful candidates, or could be wonderful candidates. This is where we started identifying areas that we could impact, where we could go at, and say, ‘Come aboard, and become a police officer.’ The church was a perfect fit.”

“One of the most common arguments from the people that are living here in the city of Rochester is, I don’t see any cops that look like me,” he stated. “I don’t see any cops that can relate to what I am living, or how I am living. You are going to see individuals from the city of Rochester becoming police officers, going back into the community that they’ve lived in all their lives, and continuing those relationships. What we need to do, as an agency, is to continue to develop those relationships, and the communities that we serve. So, having someone that has grown up in that community; and invested in that community to come out to become a police officer, and return to that community to serve them, and still be a part of that community, is where you develop that relationship. This is where you begin to avoid some of those issues that other communities around the country have had. When we have a diverse department that actually reflects the community that it serves, we’ve done our job.”

Additionally, the city said, over a four-year period of time, from 2010 to 2014, the recruitment of minority officers in the Rochester Fire Department (RFD) has also increased by almost 50 percent. There have been a total of 41 minority officers, compared to 36 white officers, who have been hired since 2010.

In terms of minorities, it’s a ratio to rate increase of 48.4 percent, compared to the ratio to rate of previous graduating classes in the years leading up to 2010.

“I personally recruit at churches,” RFD Chief John P. Schreiber stated. “It’s critical to move the organization, and community, forward. The department needs to represent the community it serves. We’ve increased, and supported, programs to do that within the department. We’ve reached out to churches, because they are integral components of this community, and we need their help to bring diversity to this department. They’re the lifelines for that, and we recognize that. We are actively reaching out to churches, and working with them to assist us in improving our diversity, and who we are as a department, and a community. Mayor Warren’s vision was to bring the churches in, and utilize them to help us bring diversity to the department. The people we recruited from the church were excellent individuals. We will also utilize them to go out and spread the word for future recruitment.”

“It’s Mayor Warren’s priority, and our commitment to that priority,” Schreiber added. “We are working collectively. It’s through her leadership that we are collectively working together to provide opportunity; to reach out to the youth of the community to say, ‘There’s opportunity here for you,’ and to work with individuals to go through the process. It’s through Mayor Warren’s leadership things are moving forward. She’s a great leader, and doing great things for this department, and community. She’s going to Washington, and she’s going to Albany. The mayor is working hard for this community. Not only in the community, but she’s going outside to bring resources to the community, to move it forward. Her efforts just didn’t start when she became mayor. It started when she was on council, and as council president. Her effort has continued in her mayoral position, so she has been a staunch advocate for diversity, and improving our work force, and our service delivery to this community.”

If businesses, organizations, or general entities would like to display applications for becoming a police officer, or firefighter, in their offices; individuals may contact the mayor’s office at (585) 428-7045, and ask for Tracy Miller, office of constituent services, according to city officials.

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