Report: Portland police need to do better hiring diverse officers

(KATU File Photo)

Portland police are having trouble meeting diversity goals because they don’t have enough data on how minority candidates move through the hiring process, according to a new report from Portland's Independent Police Review (IPR).

The Portland Police Bureau is too white, according to the report. While Portland is about 77 percent white, according to the latest information from the U.S. Census, the police bureau is 83 percent white, according to open data from the city’s Office of Equity and Human Rights.

Every other demographic in the city of Portland is under-represented in the police bureau.

“Our report was focused on some of the barriers to them getting to their goal,” said Constantin Severe, director of the IPR. “I think everybody has a shared goal, a shared value in that the Portland Police Bureau should be more diverse. Our review is basically one look at how does the bureau, how does the city, get to the point of having more diverse officers.”

The bottom line, Severe says, is the bureau does not have data that helps them identify barriers to getting hired.

Initially, Severe says researchers wanted to compare the police bureau’s hiring practices with federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission guidelines. But the bureau didn’t have enough data to do so.

Researchers found the Bureau of Human Resources was not sharing demographic data with police that would help them track the progress of candidates through the hiring process.

"The Bureau of Human Resources and the police bureau's personnel division, they need to have better communication on what the police bureau needs to identify and develop diverse candidates and what are possible limitations in sharing information," said Severe.

The report included four recommendations for the police bureau:

- Engage with the Bureau of Human Resources to discuss how applicant data can be provided to meet racial equity goal
- Purchase and create a database to track candidates through the hiring process
- Create a data-informed review process to review the hiring process through an equity lens
- Survey applicants to identify potential quality-related barriers

Police Chief Danielle Outlaw said in a letter to IPR that she agreed with the recommendations. She says they have been working on hiring a more diverse police force.

The police bureau is holding a Women’s Public Safety Fair in March. They recruit police officers on the East Coast and in the southeastern U.S. at schools like John Jay College in New York and the University of Southern Mississippi. Outlaw says both schools have strong criminal justice programs and diverse student bodies.

Outlaw said the bureau is also looking for other ways to be more equitable in the hiring process.

Police appear to have made progress over the years. According to publicly available data from the city, the percentage of white police officers has gone down over the past decade. In 2009, they made up 87 percent of the police force. Now, they make up 83 percent.

E.D. Mondaine, president of the Portland chapter of the NAACP, says equity is good, but it is not the solution to all problems.

“Please continue with the diversity, but understand that is not the problem,” he said.

Mondaine says more minority officers would make communities of color feel more represented. He says it gives kids a respectable role model to look up to and an example of upward mobility. He said a more diverse police force would bring more awareness to different cultures.

But, Mondaine says, “The African-Americans, or people period, see police as not black or white, they see them as part of the system, the occupation. They see them as blue.”

To create beneficial change for communities of color, Mondaine says police need to change their training, policies, and procedures.

“To legislate in better training and policy changes and the sensitivity towards communities of color and culture, I think, would be a much better plan,” he said.

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