The association that represents police officers of color in Boston is urging Commissioner William B. Evans to ensure that about half of the city’s vacant sergeant slots are filled with blacks or Hispanics.
In a May 8 letter to Evans, the Massachusetts Association of Minority Law Enforcement Officers lauded recent city efforts to diversify the leadership of the department, including the appointment of the first African-American chief, the agency’s second in command.
But the group said the police force also needs more African-Americans and Hispanics on the front lines and in middle management. The group said six officers, one Hispanic and five African-Americans, qualify for the dozen sergeant spots that are available.
“In the interest of inclusion and diversity, as you promised would be a priority in your administration, we’d greatly appreciate these six officers receiving an equal opportunity at advancement,’’ wrote the president of the minority officers’ association, Larry Ellison, in the letter to Evans.
Evans said in an interview that he read the letter and tried to call Ellison, whose telephone voice mailbox was full. He said that he will promote four of the six minority officers whose names are on a state civil service list for candidates who qualify to be sergeants. The other two will not be promoted because one is retiring and the other is being investigated by Internal Affairs in a disciplinary case, the commissioner said.
“The four remaining will be made [sergeants]. I’m all for getting as many city minority officers into the upper ranks as possible,’’ said Evans, adding that he elevated an African-American officer to one of two lieutenant positions in a recent promotion. “I’m working hard to make sure we increase diversity to make sure that not only are the patrolmen diverse, but also the upper ranks.”
The department’s 169 sergeants include 17 blacks, four Hispanics, and one Asian, according to police data.
Of the department’s 20 captains, one is Hispanic and one is Asian. Four of the 49 lieutenants are black or Asian. And three of the 25 lieutenant detectives are black or Hispanic, the data show. People of color constitute 53 percent of Boston’s population of 636,479, according to the US Census.
An official from the officers’ group said it stands by its list of six minority officers who had scores of 84 on the civil service exam. The official acknowledged that one of those who qualified for sergeant is under investigation.
The law enforcement organization sent its letter as the Police Department prepares to launch its first-ever city-administered promotional test next month. The last promotional exam, held on Oct. 24, 2008, was administered by the state’s human resources division. The state test came under fire amid allegations of bias and is the target of a federal lawsuit alleging discrimination.
Former police commissioner Edward F. Davis had been reluctant to issue promotions based on the state test because of the bias allegations. Furthermore, Davis and Thomas M. Menino, who was mayor at the time, had argued that the state test was not an adequate predictor of who should get promotions.
Last year, the Menino administration set aside $2 million to create the police exam that aims for a larger pool of minority candidates for sergeants, lieutenants, and captains.
Evans said the new exam, set for June 28, will give larger or equal weight to an oral component of the test, in which candidates for promotion are interviewed and given scenarios to resolve. In the captain’s test, for example, 48 percent of a candidate’s score will be based on the oral section while 32 percent will come from the written portion. Twenty percent will be based on a candidate’s education level.
For lieutenant candidates, 44 percent of the score will come from the oral portion, 36 percent from the written portion, and 20 percent will be based on education. Forty percent of the test for sergeant candidates will be based on the oral section, another 40 percent on the written, and 20 percent on education, the department said.
On the state’s civil service exam, at least 80 percent of the score was based on the written portion, Evans said.
The commissioner said the new city exam aims to gauge other factors in a candidate’s ability to move up the ranks.
“The books don’t really test someone’s leadership capabilities,’’ he said.
Calls for increased diversity at the city’s public safety departments have been growing louder for years. Mayor Martin J. Walsh has touted his shake-up in the police command as a significant diversity achievement in his administration. But leaders of the minority officers’ association said the work is not done.
“It’s great that they promoted diverse members of the command staff,’’ said Sergeant Jose Lozano, vice president of the officers’ group. “But everyone can agree that the front-line and middle management are equally as important. That’s the message that we want to send to Evans and the mayor, that this is important to the success of the department.”
City Councilor Tito Jackson, whose district includes Roxbury, said the city should continue to ensure that diversity is evident through all the Police Department ranks.
Meghan E. Irons can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.