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Wednesday, April 8, 2009 05:42 pm

Alderman objects to tactics aimed at hiring minority police

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Ward 8 Ald. Kris Theilen says it’s not about race — it’s about being the best of the best.

Theilen recently told Illinois Times that he’s disgruntled over the Davlin administration’s decision to start new police patrol officer testing when there are 20 candidates left in the highest-ranked band after the last round of tests, interviews and physical ability exams. He knows the city needs a diverse police force, he says, but if the remaining candidates — all white males — are the “cream of the crop,” they should get their shot at a department slot.

“I wouldn’t care who those 20 people were, they’re Band 1,” Theilen says. “They’re the A-list. Why would we interview and hire the first 30 on there, but we’re not going to talk to the last 20 that are equally qualified?”

City communications director Ernie Slottag says Springfield tests annually for the police department and every two years for the fire department. He points to a federal court order that mandates the hiring of more minorities as one reason not to delay police and fire testing. According to city figures, the 275-strong Springfield Police Department currently employs two black females, 30 white females, one Asian male, 11 black males, and two Hispanic males.

The SPD has been at the center of controversy more than once as minority employees have alleged racial discrimination.

Nine black Springfield cops, including

Rickey Davis and Lea Joy, the first black female on the force, filed suit in 2001 against the city of Springfield. Davis claimed that he was retaliated against for speaking out against racial discrimination within the police department; he was awarded $150,000 in 2008. Joy also alleged that she was subjected to a racially hostile work environment. Her claims were dismissed.

Renatta Frazier was another plaintiff whose alleged treatment by the SPD initially led to the “Black Guardians’” trial. Frazier was hired as a rookie cop in 2000, but was forced to resign two years later amid charges that she failed to prevent the rape of a fellow officer’s teenage daughter. An IT investigation later revealed that the girl had been raped before Frazier was dispatched to the

scene. Frazier settled with the city of Springfield for $830,000 in April 2004.

In a separate incident, Tara Holder Borders, the fourth black female police officer to work for the SPD, was hired in 2004 but resigned abruptly before her field training ended. In 2007 Borders admitted to IT that several incidents led her to believe that she was targeted for discrimination [see Dusty Rhodes, “Opt out,” Nov. 8, 2007].

Ward 2 Ald. Gail Simpson, the only black member of the city council, believes that the Davlin administration has worked to turn the SPD around. The city’s staff is doing everything it can to build up minority numbers, she says.

“The police chief and the fire chief understand that there needs to be more minorities and more women,” Simpson says. “It baffles me that aldermen don’t get it.”

This year the city extended its police patrol officer testing to locations in Belleville in order to draw new, diverse applicants. As of last week, Slottag says, 300 packets had been picked up. Orientation and written exams will continue through April 18.

Seven new officers, including one female, one Hispanic and one black officer, were recently hired from Band 1 of the current SPD list. Since that list doesn’t expire until September, Slottag says, it could still provide additional hires.

Contact Amanda Robert at arobert@illinoistimes.com.

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