By Ed Runyan
The Jan. 21 civil-service test for entry-level police officers will proceed as planned despite protests from two Warren City Council members.
Council members Cheryl Saffold and Helen Rucker told the Warren Civil Service Commission on Wednesday they believe it’s a critical time to recruit minorities to the police department.
“In the next three to 10 years, there could be no minorities in the police department and fire department,” Rucker said.
The councilwomen said they don’t believe many minorities will take the test unless the city encourages them to and unless the city promotes police work as a good career for minorities.
Rucker asked the commission to delay the test to provide time to form a committee of leaders who would work on the problem.
Rucker suggested the city encourage minority military veterans returning home from war to apply, and she said she hopes the new mayor, Doug Franklin, will take the lead.
Several hours later, Franklin said he would not postpone the test because three Warren police officers are retiring within the first two months of the year, and delaying the test and the hiring of replacements would jeopardize public safety.
Franklin met with Rucker and Saffold after the civil-service commission meeting, and the two councilwomen agreed to serve on a task force that will work to recruit minorities so the city is “better positioned the next time.”
Also participating will be Police Chief Tim Bowers, Sgt. Jeff Cole, who teaches at a police academy; and Lt. Kathy Spencer.
Rucker said the previous mayor, Michael O’Brien, didn’t show much leadership on minority hiring during his eight years in office, which ended last week.
The city had an Equal Employment Opportunity officer who traveled throughout the state to encourage minorities to work in Warren, but that position hasn’t been filled for eight years, Rucker said.
The Rev. Frank Hearns, who has served on the civil-service commission about 15 years, said he doesn’t believe one organization in Trumbull County alone can provide the leadership needed to promote minority hiring in Warren.
What is needed is for all of the groups to work together with the city administration and city council to devise and carry out strategies. Not only do the NAACP, Urban League, Ministerial Alliance, A. Philip Randolph Institute and League of Women Voters need to work on it, but groups made up mostly of white ministers need to participate, the Rev. Mr. Hearns said.
Neil Heller, an assistant chief in the Warren Fire Department, said the last minority firefighter hired in Warren was in 1992, and he will be eligible to retire in five years. It won’t be long until all of the black firefighters are eligible to retire, Heller said.
The fire department has 69 firefighters, four of them black, none of them women. The police department has 66 officers, five of them black, and four women.
Heller noted that it’s difficult to encourage minorities to get the training and apply to be firefighter, but it’s been equally difficult lately to get Warren residents to apply and train. Of the 15 firefighters most recently hired with money from a federal grant, none are from Warren.
“Most of them live in the Akron-Canton area,” Heller said. “None of them can get to work in less than 15 to 20 minutes.”