Police Chief Greg Graham says the 200-officer Cedar Rapids Police Department should have more than three black police officers.
The matter came up Thursday afternoon as Graham took an hour’s worth of questions on a wide range of subjects from the editorial staff and from reporters at The Gazette.
The question about black police officers was posed in the wake of an assault on a Cedar Rapids police officer by three black youth, an assault that has left the officer in the hospital in guarded condition and has increased the city’s police presence in neighborhoods with larger black populations.
At 6 p.m. Tuesday, too, the city’s Civil Rights Commission is sponsoring a forum at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church in the Wellington Heights Neighborhood to discuss criminal violence and neighborhood police presence.
The diversity of a city’s police force, the chief said Thursday, should “mirror” the diversity of the city, and three black officers, he said, is too few for a city like Cedar Rapids. The shortage of black officers is something he noticed early on after assuming the chief’s job in June 2008, he said.
The U.S. Census in 2000 put the city’s black population at 3.7 percent, and a census estimate in 2006 put that figure at 4.9 percent. For the Police Department’s makeup to match the city’s racial makeup, the department should have 9 or 10 black officers.
Prior to coming to Cedar Rapids, Graham had been deputy chief in Ocala, Fla., where he worked for a black police chief. But when asked if he had any network of contacts that might help in the recruitment of black officers, he said he wasn’t sure he did.
“The lack of minority officers is something we’re trying to address,” Graham offered.
But, in fact, he said it was difficult to recruit police officers, period, no matter what the race. At the same time, the current economic downturn might make public-sector law enforcement look more attractive to potential recruits, he said.
Graham said the department will be hiring a new recruit class in the months ahead, with training for that class set for summer. He said he would be willing to take questions about the racial makeup of the class at that time.