Friday, November 21, 2008

Job Opening: City Hall Statesman

OK, now that we’ve all vented, what can we do to solve the divisive problem of police recruiting?

Our problem has been that the vote was like many taken in legislative bodies from Memphis to Washington, D.C. It was cast with tunnel vision and without an understanding of its symbolic importance or its actual importance within the context of what is making cities successful.

Another problem is the deep-rooted suspicions about racially-biased hiring of police officers. While Memphis Police Department officials point proudly to the fact that 51% of the force is African-American, it is valid to remember that Memphis is 64% African-American so there is still a 25% disparity gap that the police force has to close to be totally representative of the city that it serves.

Problems Abound

There’s the problem that loosening the requirements is seem as another example of greasing the skids for the people who are abandoning our city, but if that were the ultimate motivation, it would seem that the recruiting limits for policemen shouldn’t even be extended to the Shelby County line (after all, most of the people who left Memphis did stay inside the county). But in the end, the crux of this concern is that most people are incredulous that Memphis cannot find 200 of its own citizens to hire.

The problem for some is racial. There are white people who think that a majority black city is somehow inherently more dangerous, and there are black people who think that whites complaining about property crime in their neighborhoods are whiners since they weren’t concerned for years that African-American neighborhoods are the scene of most violent crime.

The problem for others is that they think the real purpose of broadening the recruiting area is to take in all those lily-white suburban counties, although Fayette County is 36% African American, Hardeman County 41%, Tipton County 20%, Haywood County 51% and DeSoto County 25% (twice the percentage of 2000). However, the underlying sentiment is that people should not be rewarded for moving outside of Memphis, and that if people are going to get a paycheck from Memphis, they should at least live in Shelby County (and in truth, it’s hard to see that as unreasonable).

Wanted: Empathy

The problem for a smaller group is that they fear that non-Memphians will have less personal investment in our city, and as a result, they might be more inclined toward abuse and brutality, but the same could be said for police officers living in Shelby County outside Memphis. However, the reality is that for a large segment of our city, the police are as menacing as crime.

The problem for a growing number of people is that if Memphis isn’t capable of finding 200 people who can quality to be a police officer – even with the dumbed down requirements calling only for a high school diploma – how are we ever expected to compete in today’s economy for jobs that require a more highly trained workforce?

The problem for major employers is that perception is reality, and their employees see Memphis as crime-ridden and dysfunctional, hampering their success in recruiting workers to our city, particularly 25-34 year-old college-educated talent. Whether they are right or not hardly matters; they think they are right and that makes it a problem for all of us.

The Memphis Messiah

In other words, we have good people on all sides of this issue and their positions are rational from their perspective. It’s like the truth: it all depends on personal perspective. What is the truth to you may be anything but true to me, not because of anything other than the fact that we see the truth from substantially different angles.

There are times when it seems like we need a Memphis Messiah if we are to find unity, a unifying vision for the future and a mutual commitment to rolling up our sleeves and making this the best city that we can.

But it’s not a Messiah that we seek right now. It’s simply a statesman.

That should be dramatically easier to find than 200 police officers. We only need one.

Two Prospects

Truth be told, this statesman probably needs to emerge from the African-American City Council members who voted against the recruiting expansion. They have the majority vote, but they also care about living in a city where the division is lessened and divisiveness is eliminated.

There’s Council Chair Myron Lowery, the most experienced member of the city legislative body, and his ability to reach across the racial chasm has been demonstrated before and his ability to find the middle ground has been displayed before. Perhaps he will step forward.

There’s Council member Harold Collins, whose college degree is in criminal justice and who every day deals with the results of crime, particularly violent juvenile crime, in his job with the Shelby County District Attorney’s Office. Perhaps he will step forward.

While they are the most likely statesmen to emerge, there could be others. In the words of the old Southern Baptist evangelist, “it just takes one step, but the first step is the hardest, but Lord, oh, Lord, the rewards…”

Stronger Policy, Stronger City

Whoever is willing to step forward is someone who remembers that compromise is the currency of the best legislative decisions. It now takes someone to prove that we have moved beyond the days when we divided into race if we were talking about the weather. The voters in Memphis have placed a great deal of good will and confidence in this Council, and if it could find a way to come together on this issue, it would be a profound signal that our city has entered a new era.

While 7-6 votes can be politically satisfying to the winning side because they are usually the most hard-fought, they are ultimately like one-vote majority decisions in the U.S. Supreme Court. They are in the end hollow victories. They are less satisfying, they ensure opposition by about half the people and they create weaker policy.

We don’t need to tell the winning Council members this. They know it, and we suspect they are weighing these issues right now in hopes of finding common ground that unites a Council that had inspired so much hope for a different tone.
So, what could be done?

Finding The Middle Ground

For one thing, the hiring of police officers should be treated like the hiring of all city employees. It should be conducted and directed by City of Memphis Human Resources Division like all other divisions. To do otherwise and continue to allow MPD to handle its own hiring inspires doubts and suspicions about insider dealing, special agendas and preferential hiring. There’s one sure way to change it, and that’s by changing the way hiring is done.

Then, perhaps, there should be a temporary, limited use of a wider recruiting area to see if it really does produce results. Once upon a time, Shelby County Government had a policy – and it may still – that it could go outside of the county borders if it become obvious that it could not attract qualified applicants for key jobs. While the impetus for the policy was to recruit qualified physicians to work at the Health Department clinics, it would seem to be practical for police officers. For example, if county government were unable to find physicians in Shelby County, it would open the process to people in other counties. It was not a blanket policy (and perhaps in city government, it should be triggered with a resolution by Council). It was limited to the needs at hand. More to the point, there had to be a clear, proven and documented case for expanding the area for recruitment.

At this point, there seems to be a lot more opinions and fewer facts about police recruiting even after the months of discussing it. Skepticism and mistrust run deep, and Council members need better statistics and data that paint an accurate portrait about the seriousness of the problem. Perhaps, it’s time to appoint a special committee on law enforcement to delve into all aspects of this issue, including repeated general accusations about unfair practices and discriminatory hiring.

New Ways

While some may dismiss them as political posturing, the fact remains that these are extremely serious charges and the public deserves to be reassured that there has been a thorough airing of the issue and a equally thorough investigation of the charges. This too is an issue that should transcend the day-to-day politics of City Hall and should be resolved once and for all.

In other words, there is nothing so important right now as to find some safety valve actions that bring everybody back to the table and into the conversation, that strip the discussion down to its facts and that proves that there is a new way of doing business on City Council.

In the end, the most damaging aspect of the 7-6 vote was that it became yet the latest symbol of a city divided against itself. Lincoln was right: a house divided against itself cannot stand. Somehow, we’ve managed to stand divided for decades, but the foundation is finally crumbling.

Without sounding too Pollyannish, perhaps this is the issue that proves that the times have changed. If America can be said to be entering a post-racial era, it would sure be worth the try for Memphis to be part of it.


Aaron said...

"The problem for a growing number of people is that if Memphis isn’t capable of finding 200 people who can quality to be a police officer – even with the dumbed down requirements calling only for a high school diploma – how are we ever expected to compete in today’s economy for jobs that require a more highly trained workforce?"

1). Something very fishy is going on in Police HR
2). We really don't have 200 qualified applicants
3). Poor marketing for these positions by HR
4). perhaps a mixture of all the above

For the sake of selling our city to prospective businesses looking to relocate let's hope it's anything but #2. Can you imagine telling a interested CEO " why yes we have a very quality workforce to chose from. We hire our finest policeman from anywhere but our own city."

Basically there's a lot of work to be done going from K-12. This would explain why the Memphis Bioworks Foundation has started it's own Charter School that will educate and train up the first generation of Memphis kids for a job in the Biotech sector. Not having a mature crop of biotech workers is understandable since the technologies often require extensive higher education (MS or PhD) But not being able to fill positions that pay ~40K with only a high school education is not.

The biggest message this sends is a need for more mentors for the children.

Yes, a statesmen would be very helpful- like say a mayor that asks these difficult questions and starts lighting some fires.

Aaron said...

From the Commericial appeal today.

Item 1: The need for prision reform- we have some hard working industrious burglars out there.

"We lock up the same burglary suspects over and over, and they are let out because our laws are weak," Martin said.

"We have people who have committed more than 100 burglaries out there," said University of Memphis criminologist Dr. Richard Janikowski.

Item 2: The need for mentors- With mentors these men could have been our next wave of police recruits instead every succeeded generation is our next crime wave. This is where the ugly thankless ground war is to be waged if we ever expect to get our own police recruits.

"But in addition to a strong unemployment rate, Memphis also has a high rate of unemployed men between age 19 and 30 who are not trying to look for jobs, a category called "non-labor force participation." Aka societal discards.

Anonymous said...

Mentors are great if you have them, but, no one shows up for the current programs. They are inconvenient.
All plans here are ill concieved and nothing more than a waving hand concealing the knife racing for your back.
MOST of the people in Memphis are untrustworthy.
When I told friends I was moving here, they warned me not to for those reasons. Finding that unfathomable to be true I moved anyway. Members of my family will not visit me here.

packrat said...

MOST of the people in Memphis are untrustworthy? really? talk about hyperbole...

Anonymous said...

look. Ben Ferguson is on the radio right now talking about how the black members of the CC don't care about east memphis "crackers." Then you flip over to Thaddeus Matthews in the afternoon and he talks about how more cops won't stop crime and white people are stupid. Yes that is talk radio but clearly this residency issue has exacerbated the racial rift at the wrong time.
That vote last week was the by-product of an utter lack of leadership in this city. That someone on the CC did not realize what this issue would do to the city and did not try something before the vote to reach common ground is astounding. Myron Lowery a leader? Please. His position on the resolution was a perfect example of political cowardice. One of the knuckleheads on the right and one of the knuckleheads on the left need to decide that they are going to work together, look at the issue, and figure something out. Because whether we like it or not, black and white see this issue differently and we need a solution that both can accept. If not from the CC, the leadership needs to come from somewhere fast because this is ridiculous.

Brandon Cooper said...

I whole-heartedly agree that we need to find this “statesman,” however, this issue should be fairly simple. The City Council should have a more open debate and discussion as there typically is on issues of this weight. This vote did not have to be a “yes or no” vote as I am sure there could be a compromise made.

According to a recent discussion at a Leadership Academy luncheon with two city council members, there was no such discussion or debate, just a 7 to 6 divided, “hollow” win for the “no’s.” Instead of choosing a viable option with compromise, will we have to decrease our standards yet again to gain enough qualified candidates?

Possible Compromise:
What if potential officers were to be required to move into the city within a year after completing the academy? Would that not be a healthy compromise that would open up a wider net of candidates?

In my humble opinion, a better qualified (no matter the race) candidate willing to move to our city is a better qualified candidate.

Anonymous said...

How short is memfrika on EMT's?
Engineering Staff?

you get the gummint you pay for, remember.

Anonymous said...

My point exactly Brandon. It is an indictment of the entire CC that an issue like this was handled as it was. Everyone on that counsel should be ashamed of themselves. Shea Flinn should stop going on the Ben Ferguson show; Wanda Halbert should get off the Matthews show. They should get in a room and figure out a way through this because perception is reality and the perception that came from last week is that CC is the gang that cant shoot straight. We have deep deep racial wounds in this town and none of these people - white and black - seem the slightest bit interested in doing anything but exploiting them.

packrat said...

They can't "get in a room" and figure this out privately, folks. That would be a gross violation of the sunshine laws, and as appealing as it maybe to try that sometimes, it's against the law for elected lawmaking officials to deliberate in private.

Anonymous said...

the "get in a room" was more of a figure of speech than a request to be taken literally. The point is that someone on that counsel needs to decide to do what is best for the city, and that means figuring out a way to get the Flinns and the Halberts of the world to work together and reach consensus. So I don't care how big the room is they meet in and I don't care who else is in it, but someone needs to act like a grown up and start leading.

Aaron said...

"The fall of Newark resulted from lack of communication, lack of sympathy, lack of understanding and a lack of love for mankind. IT IS THE PEOPLE OF NEWARK THAT KILLED NEWARK. Nearly everyone contributed to the city's demise."

This could be Memphis if people refuse to work together toward a better common good. Enough devisiveness and bagging on Memphis. Frankly, I want the next guy to move into my neighborhood to be a new police recruit. Someone that is committed to riding out the good and bad times with us as a fellow community member committed to this city.
Grow up Memphis government and do your jobs!

Anonymous said...

For the record. Compromises were attempted to varying degrees of success. The resolution was amended to include a Human resources study of any discriminatory impact of teh hiring process, as per CouncilWoman Halbert's information. The Resolution already included a preference for hiring within the city, and Councilman Strickland offered several compromises in his prepared remarks. As a matter of fact the debate ended with Councilman Conrad pleading for other ideas, asking the body to come up with suggestions. The Chair stated he would take that question as rhetorical, an we proceeded to the vote. I am still hopeful for some compromises on this issue.

As to the point about my appearnce on the Ben Ferguson show, I only appeared the mornign before the debate with Councilmen Lowery and Conrad.

Shea Flinn

Aaron said...

"As a matter of fact the debate ended with Councilman Conrad pleading for other ideas, asking the body to come up with suggestions."

Imagine you are a CEO and you ask your key people, your staff for better ideas and everyone draws a blank.
That's fine. Happens all the time but let's say you tell your staff you've got one week and if we don't collectively come up with something you're all canned. End of story.

Whenever human beings enter crisis mode they either panic and die ( or wither) or get extremely creative and survive (and grow) and the human race moves down or up a rung on the ladder of social progress.

No one likes to be the bad guy, but where is the sense of urgency here? Where is the sense that if HR doesn't fill those positions their jobs are on the line?

Also, who is going to audit or review HR?

Nonetheless, I appreciate your comments Mr. Flinn. I look forward to seeing a solution that will give our Chamber of Commerce one more weapon in their arsenal for wooing businesses to come and make Memphis their new home. Please, make us proud Memphians.

Anonymous said...

For one thing, the hiring of police officers should be treated like the hiring of all city employees. It should be conducted and directed by City of Memphis Human Resources Division like all other divisions. To do otherwise and continue to allow MPD to handle its own hiring inspires doubts and suspicions about insider dealing, special agendas and preferential hiring. There’s one sure way to change it, and that’s by changing the way hiring is done.

City HR already oversees ALL of the MPD hiring - and approves of all hires. The MPD monitors and schedules the testing components - which have all been approved by City HR - and the MPD handles the background checks which it does for ALL city hires as well. A committee of city employees and police personnel review all applicants who have passed the tests and other hiring requirements BEFORE a job offer is made by the City. The majority of the people who make these decisions and evaluations on these potential recruits are black.

It is really disgusting the way that an allegation by one CC member (Halbert) has been allowed to grow and fester. The men and women who work in City HR and for the MPD work very hard to hire the best possible police recruits. If there is a problem within the system then fix it but don't paint the entire process as corrupt based on politically motivated accusations.

Anonymous said...

From WMCTV5:

Memphis City Council members have been at war with one another over police hiring practices in a clash riddled with racial overtones. Now, police are revealing detailed reasons for rejecting potential recruits.

From January 2006 to June 2008, the written test turned away most applicants: 54% of African American applicants and 43.8% of white applicants. The Memphis Police Department says the written test checks for basic reading comprehension and how well the applicant can adapt to different work environments.

The Psychological Exam was the second most challenging test for applicants: almost the same percentage of African American and white applicants failed it. The psychological exam involves two true/false tests that assess behavioral risk factors. It is currently used by several police departments across America.

The percentages of African Americans and Whites turned away for having too many traffic violations was almost neck-and-neck. Applicants can't have more than four moving violations in a year.

Overall, 2,034 African Americans applied to join the force, and 311 were actually hired. 841 Caucasians applied, and 210 were actually hired.

Some council members questioned why applicants could not see their psychological test results.

The city's Labor Relations Office released this memo saying the Ethics Code does not require the release of test results, and releasing those results could cause copyright and trademark infringements.

Anonymous said...

Sorry for the percieved hyperbole, I should have said, "the people I will be working with" in the secular world.
If city hall people are right, that's all they are, they are not making progress by staking a claim on self-righteousness. They are making enemies of the citizens, losing health and vitality, not self expressed or satisfied with their own trail of failure, dysfunction, and lack of progress and REAL RESULTS FOR POSITIVE CHANGE IN MEMPHIS.
So they think they are right? So What, what new happened, what did they win, what was the big prize for being right?


Anonymous said...

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