by Paul Bowers
In a city where 47 percent of the population is African-American, just 19 percent of sworn personnel in the North Charleston Police Department are black, according to a department spokesman.
As of March 2015, the North Charleston Police Department had 256 white, 60 African American, and nine Hispanic sworn personnel, the spokesman said. The number of white officers dropped by one when the department fired Officer Michael T. Slager following his arrest on a murder charge in the April 4 shooting death of Walter Scott, an African American.
The racial hiring disparity is nothing new to North Charleston. A 2009 study found that the percentage of African Americans employed by the city of North Charleston as a whole was lower than the percentage of African Americans in the city population at large.
The study, which lists Fire Department Chief Gregory A. Bulanow as its author and is available on the website of the Federal Emergency Management Agency's U.S. Fire Administration, was conducted in order to "identify ways for the [North Charleston Fire Department] to obtain a more racially diverse workforce," according to the abstract, but the study also looked at hiring practices in other city departments. According to the study, the city's racial composition was 45 percent Caucasian and 49 percent African-American at the time, but African Americans made up 39 percent of the city's workforce.
Diversity varied widely from one department to another. The departments with the highest proportions of African-American employees were Zoning (80 percent), Public Works (75 percent), and Recreation (66 percent). The Police Department was 23 percent African-American at the time, and the Fire Department was 24 percent African-American.
The study noted that the Fire Department's racial disparity in hiring was hardly unique. "The results indicated no other large city departments or responding South Carolina fire departments had achieved proportional racial diversity," the study said. Based on an internal survey of fire department employees, the study stated, "The researcher identified a perceived lack of interest by minority candidates, and a satisfaction with the status quo as potential barriers to effective recruitment." Among African-American fire department employees at the time, 9 percent identified "racial discrimination by the NCFD" as a barrier to recruiting minorities.
The report noted that the Fire Department had made efforts in the previous two years to increase its diversity, particularly after its racial composition came under media scrutiny in 2006. The city hired its first black fire chief, Leonard Judge, in December 2007. The report also noted that the fire department had hired several African-American men through its Explorers career education program, had created "recruitment brochures that picture a diverse selection of personnel," and had "attended job fairs with a diverse audience."
When asked about the racial disparity between the city's population and the police department's hiring, Mayor Keith Summey said on Wednesday, "Anyone that can become certified as a police officer, we're more than willing to hire. The problem is we have a very limited number, even to the point where we've started going out and recruiting from other departments."
Summey has been mayor of North Charleston since 1994. He is up for re-election in November, and his two opponents, John G. Singletary Jr. and Clifford Smith, say that the city can do more to achieve diversity within its police ranks. Check charlestoncitypaper.com later today for responses to the Walter Scott shooting from Singletary and Smith.