The Fayetteville Police Department is back up to full strength. Ten cadets just graduated from the Basic Law Enforcement Training class, pinned on their badges and were issued side arms. Until the graduation, the official count for the department was 427 sworn officers out of 433 authorized positions. Many officials focus on the racial composition of Fayetteville’s public safety services. Interim Police Chief Anthony Kelly is not one of them. Nor is City Manager Doug Hewett. Of those 427 sworn officers, only 80 of them are African-American.
“We’re looking at it in the wrong way,” declared Kelly. “We’ve been trying to recruit a community into a profession that has not been introduced to it as a viable career opportunity,” he said. Kelly added that he never interacted with the police as a youngster. “We almost will have to advance to another generation to start changing the mindset of young people.” Kelly was a recruiter for three years with the police department.
There’s a lot of work to be done among those who believe the FPD should better represent the community it serves. Fayetteville has one of the largest populations of African-Americans in North Carolina, yet the police department’s black composition is 19 percent of the whole. Of approximately 270 uniformed, patrol officers there are only five black sergeants in supervisory positions. Kelly isn’t alarmed about the numbers. “White supervisors could have an advantage in the black community. When I responded in the black community, I caught more flak from the people than elsewhere.” Kelly said in his experience white sergeants get more respect. When asked what that says about policing, he responded, “what does that say about black people … the community I live in must change the way it looks at things.”
Officials note that many African-American officers with career promotional opportunities in mind receive terrific training and experience in Fayetteville and then move on to other departments. Typically, municipal fire departments have even worse records of hiring and retaining blacks. Kelly was quick to recall that “being a fireman never crossed my mind when I was young.” He says most young black men and women never interact with firefighters. It’s a foreign career field to them.
City Councilman Chalmers McDougald doesn’t see it that way. He said it’s a matter of the city aggressively recruiting African Americans. He puts the responsibility on the city administration, especially the Office of Human Resources. HR is a core function of business and government. An HR department of an organization oversees various aspects of employment, such as compliance with labor law and employment standards, employee benefits as well as recruitment and dismissal. “HR is supposed to know the law,” said McDougald. “You have to have balance in the employee applicant pool,” he added We emailed City Manager Hewett with some questions about the hiring disparities and then spoke with him in person. “I’ve not reviewed this information and as such, can’t comment at this time,” he said. “That’s a big part of the problem,” Councilman McDougald declared. “I think they’ve tried to hide what they’re not doing, but anything that’s hidden can be dug up.” He concluded. Bi-racial employment issues in the fire department will be discussed by city council in June.