Black Chicagoans Apply To Be Cops, But Few Make It On The Force. Here’s Why.

CPD Graduation
Hundreds of police officers joined Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot in a Navy Pier ballroom for a training academy ceremony in 2019. As Black representation on the force dwindles, a report Thursday from the city’s inspector general says 37% of CPD applicants are African American but just 18% of those who get hired. Manuel Martinez / WBEZ
CPD Graduation
Hundreds of police officers joined Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot in a Navy Pier ballroom for a training academy ceremony in 2019. As Black representation on the force dwindles, a report Thursday from the city’s inspector general says 37% of CPD applicants are African American but just 18% of those who get hired. Manuel Martinez / WBEZ

Black Chicagoans Apply To Be Cops, But Few Make It On The Force. Here’s Why.

A long-standing source of tension in Chicago’s Black neighborhoods is the large number of white cops on patrol and a feeling that the Police Department is an occupying force. Now some city findings are shedding light on the failure of police recruitment efforts to increase the percentage of sworn officers who are Black.

A report released Thursday afternoon by Inspector General Joseph Ferguson’s office says African Americans account for 37% of CPD applicants but just 18% of candidates who make it through a year-and-a-half hiring process and get invited to the police training academy.

“The outcomes of CPD’s hiring process do not reflect the city’s rich demographic diversity — not because of the pool that goes into the process, but because of the pool that comes out of it,” Deputy Inspector General for Public Safety Deborah Witzburg said in a statement. “We urge swift attention to changes that would make CPD better and stronger by virtue of being more diverse.”

Greater diversity in police departments has been credited with boosting their trustworthiness in nonwhite neighborhoods.

But Black representation among Chicago’s sworn officers has been dropping for more than a decade as African Americans retire from the force in greater numbers than they are hired. That drop continued even during a CPD hiring blitz in 2017 and 2018 that Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration billed as a diversity project, a WBEZ investigation found.

In May 2019, when Mayor Lori Lightfoot replaced Emanuel, African Americans made up 21.1% of the city’s cops, according to inspector general figures. By July 1 of this year, they made up just 20.2%. They make up 29.6% of the city’s population, according to the most recent U.S. Census Bureau estimate.

During her mayoral campaign, Lightfoot promised to target racial imbalances in CPD ranks, saying she would increase the number of minority candidates admitted into the academy. Police Supt. David Brown, hired last spring by Lightfoot, has also stressed the importance of diversity.

The hiring process includes tests of cognitive ability, physical fitness, personal background, mental health and other predictors of job performance. Applicants are eliminated at every stage but the attrition varies by race.

Ferguson’s office, analyzing applicants from April 2016 through December 2018, found African Americans fared especially poorly on a written test as well as physical fitness testing and the background investigation.

Compared to other applicants, Black men were eliminated as candidates at their highest rate during the background check, Ferguson’s office found. Black women had their highest attrition during physical fitness testing.

The inspector general also found female candidates eliminated at higher rates. Women submitted 34% of applications but their proportion among those invited to the academy was just 27%, according to the inspector general.

Ferguson’s office recommended that CPD evaluate each stage of its hiring process for biases and recommended 17 specific steps by the Police Department and the city’s new Office of Public Safety Administration.

CPD and OPSA responded jointly that they agree with those recommendations, and they committed to making some near-term changes, such as halting the automatic disqualification of candidates who fail to pass one of the physical fitness tests and disclosing some details about the background check’s criteria.

Chip Mitchell reports out of WBEZ’s West Side studio about policing. Follow him @ChipMitchell1. Contact him at cmitchell@wbez.org.