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Racial Diversity Eludes Dayton Police

Dayton Police Chief Richard Biehl acknowledges issues with diversity within the city's police department.
City of Dayton Police Department Website

Despite efforts to address racial disparities within its ranks, the Dayton Police Department hasn't increased the percentage of black officers. 

A 2008 lawsuit by the U.S. Department of Justice found the Dayton police and fire departments engaged in hiring practices that discriminated against African Americans. The criticisms focused on written and physical tests that were eliminating African-American candidates.

Dayton Police Chief, Richard Biehl, says there were problems with the testing.

“The fact is that the tests had disparate impact, does not mean that it was necessarily discriminatory, but what it means, at least on the face of it, there was an inference or concern the city may have been discriminatory," Biehl said.

The Civil Service Commission, the city agency that administers the test, hired a consulting company to help redesign the test and took over recruitment efforts. Maurice Evans with the commission says it has made inroads into minority communities. 

“We talked to community leaders, we talked to a lot of pastors, a lot of presidents and administrators of colleges, and we went everywhere, we just did a grassroots of trying to find good people with the recruiting," Evans said. "Our Board was out there advertising the police department, the fire department—they all want qualified people to become police officers and fire fighters and people that work for the community.” 

The DOJ is satisfied with the steps taken by the Civil Service Commission, But African Americans still make up just 9 percent of Dayton’s police force. That number hasn’t moved since the lawsuit. In the last census, Dayton had a black population of about 42 percent.  

The recent protests over police shootings of African Americans in Ohio and nationwide have some asking why police forces don't reflect the communities they serve. Tommy Owens is a community activist in Dayton who says racial disparity can’t be addressed with just a marketing strategy.

“The problem is when the African American community doesn’t trust the police," Owens said. "And the problem with why they’re not getting the recruitment is definitely because of the stigma.”

Officials say they are worried that an anti-police climate will negatively affect future recruiting efforts. That could be reflected in the next hiring round, slated for June of this year.

Jerry Kenney was introduced to WYSO by a friend and within a year of first tuning in became an avid listener and supporter. He began volunteering at the station in 1991 and began hosting Alpha Rhythms in February of 1992. Jerry joined the WYSO staff in 2007 as a host of All Things Considered and soon transitioned into hosting Morning Edition. In addition to now hosting All Things Considered, Jerry is the host and producer of WYSO Weekend, WYSO's weekly news and arts magazine. He has also produced several radio dramas for WYSO in collaboration with local theater companies. Jerry has won several Ohio AP awards as well as an award from PRINDI for his work with the WYSO news department. Jerry says that the best part of his job is being able to talk to people in the community and share their experiences with WYSO listeners.