This has nothing to do with Hispanic Direct Marketing but it is why I love New York.

July 8, 2005

In Police Class, Blue Comes in Many Colors

By JENNIFER 8. LEE

Some of the members of the New York Police Department's latest, and most diverse, class at the Police Academy last week. A majority of the 1,600 recruits are members of minority groups, the first time that has ever occurred.

 

 

When 1,600 recruits become police officers next week, they will make up the first graduating class in the history of the New York City Police Department that is majority minority; less than half the men and women are white. The difference - the class is 45.2 percent non-Hispanic white - is seen by many as a significant marker in the department's slow racial evolution.

But the racial breakdown is only one facet of the class. Looking closely at it provides a real-time snapshot of the force and its relationship to the city, with the newest immigrant police officers representing the city's newest immigrants, though belatedly. Many of the white recruits are themselves immigrants. And a very high percentage of new recruits live in the city, in contrast to many older officers, who work in the five boroughs but live in the suburbs.

 At the very least, those in the department and those who watch it agree, the shift to such a class presents a moment to take stock of a department that has not always reflected the racial makeup of the city it polices - whose population has been less than 50 percent non-Hispanic white since sometime before the 1990 census. - and has at various times had a deeply troubled relationship with different groups.

Police officials say the change comes at a time of unusually strong community relationships with the police. Critics say that while the new class may be mostly minority, whites still occupy a disproportionately high percentage of the highest-paying jobs. Officials say changes will eventually come at those levels, too.

"There is less tension in the streets among the police and the people that we police than we have seen in my career," said Raymond Kelly, the police commissioner.

The Police Department hired Sam Battle as its first black police officer in 1911. Today, the 37,000-member force is 53.2 percent white, a level that decreases each year with retirements. In the last four years, more than 10,000 officers have graduated from the academy - just under half of them non-Hispanic white.

The rest of the department is 17.4 percent black, 25.5 percent Hispanic and about 3.8 percent Asian. It is one of the more representative agencies in a city that, as of the 2000 census, was 35 percent non-Hispanic white, 26.6 black, 9.8 percent Asian-American, and 27 percent Hispanic. The Fire Department, in contrast, is 92 percent white.

"On the street, where the rubber meets the road, is where you see the diversity displayed most clearly," Commissioner Kelly said.

 In 1999, when the department came under sharp criticism after four white officers shot a West African immigrant, Amadou Diallo, whites made up 67.4 percent of the force. Twenty years earlier, the force was 86.6 percent white. (The merger of the transit and housing police, which traditionally had higher percentages of minorities, into the main Police Department in 1995 helped increase the number of blacks and Hispanics.)

The class that will graduate on Wednesday is 45.2 percent white, 18.3 percent black, 28.2 percent Hispanic and 8 percent Asian-American. Many of the white recruits today are themselves immigrants, often from Eastern Europe; 63.3 percent of the incoming class lives in the city and 15.6 percent are women.

"When I came on in 1970, there were only 300 Hispanics on the job," said Rafael Pineiro, the chief of personnel, who is one of the highest-ranking Hispanics in the history of the department. Today, he said, there are about 8,000 Hispanics. "We've come a long way."

There are 68 minority officers at the rank of captain or above - or 10 percent. Critics say this is partially due to subtle, systemic discrimination against the promotion of minority officers. However, the department claims the disparity is largely a function of time lag for newer recruits to move up and of the civil service promotion exam, which controls promotions up to the rank of captain. For reasons that are subject to debate, some minority groups take and pass those tests at a lower rate.

Promotions above the rank of captain, from deputy inspector up to chief, are discretionary. Commissioner Kelly said the minority percentage of those ranks exceeds that in the eligible pool of captains.

Some critics also say that minority officers often do not get the same opportunities in prestigious specialized units like counterterrorism. "On the internal scale of the Police Department, minorities are playing roles which are least significant," said Anthony Miranda, executive director of the National Latino Officers Association of America, who is a 21-year department veteran.

The association filed a class-action lawsuit in 1999, claiming that the department had created a hostile environment for minority officers, who it said were disciplined in a discriminatory fashion and suffered reprisals when they complained. The suit was settled for $26.8 million in 2004 and included an agreement for the department to analyze whether minority employees are being discriminated or retaliated against.

The city's shifting immigrant population, along with the department's recruiting campaign through the mainstream and ethnic media, have been key reasons that the academy classes have grown more diverse.

The Police Department has long been a steppingstone to the middle class for the city's immigrants: it offers a promise of steady pay, good benefits and a sense of belonging to an American institution. For generations that promise drew Irish, Italian and German immigrants and their children. Today, the immigrant mix is just as likely to include Dominicans, Chinese, Bangladeshis, Haitians and Russians.

"The Irish and the Italians are getting outpaced by the newer immigrant arrivals," said Michael Cronin, the executive director of the New York Police Museum.

Word of mouth is also a powerful recruitment tool within immigrant communities. "Officers are our best recruiters," said Martin Morales, a deputy inspector, who heads the recruiting efforts. "They go out and tell their families and friends."

Syed Maksud Shah, a 31-year-old Bangladeshi immigrant, joined in large part because his twin brother, Syed Mokbul Shah, was a police officer.

In turn, he has spread the word to his Bangladeshi friends. "They work in hotels, in candy stories, driving taxis," said Mr. Shah. "I encourage them, tell them this is the best job nowadays, with lots of benefits," said Mr. Shah, who will return to Bangladesh for an arranged marriage after his graduation.

Woo Ham, a 24-year-old Korean-American police recruit, said his parents brag about his job to their friends, many of whom own nail salons and delis. "The first thing they say when they meet old friends is 'Hey, how are you doing? My son's in the N.Y.P.D.,' " said Mr. Ham, who himself has polished nails done by his mother, a manicurist.

For those whose families have been in the country for generations, the reasons for joining the force vary.

"The pay is not the best, and you have a chance of dying, but you have a direct impact on people's lives," said Joseph Muller, 27, a fourth-generation police officer whose great-grandfather was an officer in Brooklyn before it merged with the rest of the city.

Mr. Muller's reasons for joining the force are different from those of his grandfather. "It was the height of the Great Depression," said Mr. Muller. "It was a good job, solid benefits, pension."

 The historic influence of the European immigrant groups is still felt around the department - reflected in the bagpipes and drums that are used in ceremonies, for example - but gone are the days where officers automatically asked one another which Catholic high school they went to or on which football team they played.

Asian-Americans are the fastest-growing group in the department, having made up only 2 to 3 percent of a graduating class just five years ago. Historically, Asian-Americans have been reluctant to allow their children to join the police force, in part because doing so was seen as putting strangers ahead of the family.

Ever since the Police Department established an Italian Legion in 1905 to investigate the Mafia, the department has put the diverse backgrounds and language skills of its officers to work in undercover, intelligence and other assignments.

Shaimaa Peterson, a 25-year-old Egyptian-American, hopes her linguistic skills and religious background will be assets to the department, especially in domestic security. "I know the religion, what phrases are out there," said Ms. Peterson, who lived in Egypt until she was 18.

Copyright 2005The New York Times Company