Updated at 4:30 p.m. Jan. 20 with approval of money.
The Board of Estimate and Apportionment approved $39,000 of the proposed $50,000 for the minority recruitment program. An additional $11,000 may be available next fiscal year. The city and the Ethical Society of Police must still sign a contract outlining the details.
The grant comes as the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department faces a federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint over its promotion policies. The St. Louis Fire Department has faced several lawsuits over the same issue.
Our original story from November 2014
The city of St. Louis plans to expand a recruitment program piloted by the black police officer’s association that will increase diversity in its public safety department as a whole.
For the past year, members of the Ethical Society of Police have recruited and mentored young black men they think would make good police officers. The society offers support for recruits that includes a 10-week class on the basics of police work and help with the police academy application.
The new initiative unveiled by Mayor Francis Slay on Tuesday would expand those efforts to the public safety division as a whole, which includes the fire department, corrections officers and park rangers. Officers who participate in the recruitment efforts will be paid overtime. The program will use $50,000 from a public safety sales tax voters approved in 2008.
"A lot of African-Americans, especially young men and young ladies, don't see African-American policemen," said Detective Andre Smith, the vice president of the Ethical Society. "When they see African-American policemen asking them to join in policing their neighborhoods, that's the biggest recruiting tool we have."
Public safety director Richard Gray said his priority from day one has been to increase the diversity of his department. The new program, he said, dovetails nicely with recruiting trips to the University of Arkansas-Pine Bluff, a historically black institution that draws a good portion of its student population from the St. Louis area.
"We made sure the recruits knew that we had fire, police, building division. It's important to make sure that we're finding the qualified candidates for all those divisions," Gray said.
The city of St. Louis is just about 50 percent black. Thirty-four percent of the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department is black, but the last two classes in the police academy were 50/50, Gray said. The numbers for the other public safety divisions were not immediately available.
The recruitment effort could serve as a model nationwide, said Adolphus Pruitt, the president of the St. Louis chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
"The statement of, ‘We can’t find them,’ no longer is applicable in the St. Louis region," Pruitt said. "The statement should be that with the Ethical Society and working in partnership, we can find qualified African-Americans to fulfill any positions in public safety."
Pruitt said he made the U.S. Department of Justice aware of the program in August, and that department staffers had talked to the Ethical Society several times since then.
Seeking Practical Solutions
Solutions to public policy problems like police diversity and training were the focus of a Thursday afternoon forum sponsored by the Saint Louis University School of Law.
The Ferguson Policy Solutions Workshop gave the community a chance to learn about and evaluate the various reforms that could be made on the local, state and national level to areas like municipal courts and police training.
"Educational events explaining what the problem is, have a function. But the ultimate goal of those should be to make things better," said third-year law student Talia Linneman, who helped organize the summit. "While we have the momentum and the energy, now is the time to focus on solutions."
Speakers included state Senator Jamilah Nasheed and a senior attorney from the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. Linneman said law enforcement were invited, but could not participate.
Follow Rachel Lippmann on Twitter: @rlippmann