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Thursday, May 22, 2003 02:20 pm

No favors please

Black Guardians Association, the group of African-American police officers, is asking the City of Springfield for a very special favor. Namely, no special favors.

In a brief press release issued this week, BGA expressed "concern regarding the City of Springfield's past lack of commitment to diversifying its police force." But the press release goes on to address Springfield Police Department's upcoming entry exams, scheduled for June 7: "It continues to be our goal that African-American recruits are treated equally with other recruits, no better and no worse."

Courtney Cox, attorney for nine Black Guardians who have filed a race discrimination lawsuit against the city and the department, says the press release is, in part, a reaction to statements and conclusions contained in the report of an investigation into SPD's treatment of two black officers. The investigation, commissioned by former mayor Karen Hasara, was conducted by the Peoria law firm Husch & Eppenberger, who concluded that there is no bias against blacks in the SPD--and that, in fact, black officers get better treatment from management than white officers.

Cox says his clients dispute that conclusion and want to make sure the public understands that all they want is a level playing field. The upcoming test session presented the opportunity to clarify their position, Cox says.

"They have never nor do they now nor will they in the future ask for any special favors for themselves or future recruits," Cox says. "All these black officers have ever asked is to be treated exactly the same as other officers."

However, Cox says he believes the Sangamon County Sheriff's Department has a better method of hiring new recruits than the SPD does. The police department gives a written test and an oral exam. Applicants are ranked according to their scores on these two tests, and new hires are chosen starting at the top of the list. At the sheriff's department, by comparison, everyone who passes the written exam and the physical agility test is presented on a list to Sheriff Neil Williamson, who never knows how these applicants scored.

"Then I interview the people," Williamson says. "If I need females, I'll interview females. If I need Hispanics, I interview Hispanics. If I need African-Americans, I interview African-Americans." Exactly how they scored on the written test is not of much interest to him. "Some people are great test-takers but would be lousy in law enforcement. I'd rather have someone who gets an average score but has common sense," Williamson says.

Though the Sheriff's Department has higher standards (applicants must have two years of college), it has higher minority representation in its ranks. Of 74 deputies, five are African-American, and three are members of other minority groups. Among 72 correctional officers at the Sangamon County Jail, five are African-American. Any way you slice these numbers, the percentage of minorities is significantly higher than at the SPD, where there are currently 14 black officers on a force of 282.

The deadline to sign up for SPD's entry test is Friday, May 23. Anyone under the age of 35 is welcome to apply.

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