Chief makes racial sensitivity a priority in his department
By JOHN W. GOODWIN JR.
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
BOARDMAN -- Township Police Chief Jeffrey Patterson is looking to create more racial sensitivity in his department by hiring minorities and training officers already with the depart-ment.
The chief said his plans have been in the works for some time and are not a knee-jerk reaction to a recent letter accusing the department of engaging in racial profiling.
"This is a hard situation to deal with," the chief said. "If someone believes this is happening, every situation tends to reinforce that belief, as does every denial [of profiling in the department]."
Made situations known: Gerald Beulah, senior engineer and producer of morning programming on 570 WKBN radio, informed the chief late last month of four situations in which he feels he was targeted by township officers because he is black.
The letter became a topic for U.S. Rep. James A. Traficant Jr. last week while he was host of the station's morning show. The congressman said he would look into the matter, have Beulah's letter read into the Congressional Record and send a copy of the letter to each police department in the 17th Congressional District.
The letter was submitted to the Record on Wednesday.
In the letter, Beulah said township officers have followed and stopped him four times -- once blocking his car in the parking lot at the Clear Channel Radio building on South Avenue and asking what he was doing there. The letter did not say if the same officer was involved each time.
White employees of the radio station do not receive the same treatment, even when coming to work at the same time, 5 a.m., Beulah wrote.
Police chief's response: Chief Patterson's response to Beulah and Traficant said he strives to stay alert to any indications of discriminatory practices by officers in his department. Beulah's letter is the first such complaint he has received in the six months he has been chief, he said.
He worked as a police officer in Florida before being appointed to the township position.
In an interview this week, Patterson noted that township records for 2000 show about 77 percent of the department's citations were issued to white citizens, about 23 percent to blacks. The township's black population is roughly 2.5 percent, but Patterson said many more blacks travel through the area because of the heavily used commercial district.
The township department has no black officers, but Patterson said he believes greater diversity would lead to better understanding in race-related situations. He hopes to improve diversity in the department through the hiring of qualified black officers. Testing for new officers will begin early next year.
"We know there are qualified minority candidates out there and we need to make sure we can convince them to consider Boardman when looking for a position," he said.
Following state rules: Patterson said the department is required to follow state civil service rules -- meaning all potential candidates will have to score high on the civil service exam. He noted, though, that legislation is pending in Columbus that would give home-rule townships such as Boardman more flexibility in civil service exams.
Patterson said most people hear "there is a shortage of qualified minority candidates" and assume it means the candidates are not qualified, but that is not the case. There is simply a shortage of minority candidates, he said.
The chief also points to a 6-inch-thick binder of gathered material he and other department officials are using to restructure the department's traffic stop policy; a video on the ills of racial profiling all officers watched; and racial sensitivity training his officers will soon undergo -- changes and policies that were in effect before Beulah's letter was received.
Finally, he also has asked that Traficant include a copy of his response to Beulah in the Congressional Record and that a copy be sent, along with Beulah's letter, to the other police departments in the district.