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Investigator | City Hall's minority recruitment of police questioned

"We've been banging our heads on this for a long time," said Cleveland Safety Director Michael McGrath.
Cleveland police recruits

CLEVELAND -- Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson and his police administration are being criticized for failing to aggressively recruit minorities to a police department that doesn't look like the city it serves.

The Cleveland Police Department is comprised of mostly white officers serving a largely black population. The racial gap hasn't changed much over the years, despite the city's claims that it has striven for more racial balance.

"We've been banging our heads on this for a long time," said Cleveland Safety Director Michael McGrath.

U.S. Census figures and city records show the city is about 53 percent black, while the police force is nearly 25 percent black. That racial gap is one of the worst in the country. Cleveland ranks eighth worst out of cities with more than 100,000 people.

"Recruitment and retention of minority police officers has really not been a priority of this administration or the prior administration," said attorney Michael Nelson, with the Cleveland chapter of the NAACP.

A closer look at the top 10 cities nationwide shows Miami Gardens, Fla., at No. 1 with a 59 percent difference between black cops and black residents.

Ohio has three cities in the top 10.

Dayton ranks second with a racial gap of about 37 percent. Cincinnati is seventh at 28.5 percent and Cleveland is close behind at 27.7 percent.

"We would like to see a higher percentage of minorities on the force, absolutely," said McGrath.

The Black Shield Police Association in Cleveland doesn't believe the city is doing enough to recruit blacks to the department, and said it's critical that efforts improve.

"I would say black officers would understand that everybody wearing a hoodie is not a gang member or drug dealer," said the organization's president Lynn Hampton.

In its scathing report on Cleveland's use of excessive force, the U.S. Justice Department found a sign at one of the districts that illustrates that lack of trust.

The sign identified the district station as a forward operating base, which is a military term for a small, secured outpost used to support tactical operations in a war zone.

Federal officials said the the sign shows how the police force needs to "undergo a cultural shift at all levels to change the 'us-against-them' mentality.'"

Many believe a department that is more reflective of the city would help.

"When I'm at McDonald's and an officer walks in, I don't want him to throw me down on the floor, choke me and shoot me. I want 'Officer Friendly.' That is not the case in our community," said the Reverend C.J. Matthews, pastor at Mt. Sinai Baptist in Cleveland.

McGrath argues the city is having trouble getting minority candidates to take the entrance test. But critics accuse the city of not reaching out.

"You have to expand your footprint. You can't limit your footprint to Cleveland and Cuyahoga County," said Nelson.

McGrath insists they go beyond the city limits but couldn't say how often.

The Cleveland Police Patrolman's Association says too much is made of the racial gap.

"We're blue. Everyone on this police force is blue. When people need us, we go, regardless of race," said Steve Loomis, president of the Cleveland Police Patrolmen's Association.

The recent police cadet class looks more like the city it is now serving. Of the 46 officers, 18 -- or 39 percent -- are minorities.

"You need to understand the populace you're dealing with," said Hampton.

Many still question the response of a white rookie cop, who shot and killed 12-year-old Tamir Rice within two seconds of the police car's arrival.

"He responded in such a way because of his lack of familiarity with the community he was policing," Nelson said.

WKYC Channel 3 News requested steps the city takes to actively recruit minority candidates to the Police Department.

The formal request was made on Jan. 15. The mayor's office has yet to respond.