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Police expand minority recruitment

Aug. 15, 2010 @ 10:37 PM

HUNTINGTON -- As the Huntington Police Department is preparing to graduate its first black police officer in 16 years, department leaders hope new initiatives will help the next minority hiring happen much sooner.

Police Chief Skip Holbrook talked about the hiring and the agency's recruitment efforts Aug. 7 at a statewide gathering of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Branches from across the state met at Huntington's First Baptist Church.

Holbrook told the NAACP that various groups, such as the city's Black Pastors' Ministerial Association, had expressed the need for his force to hire more minorities. He inherited a department with 86 total officers, which included five women and two minorities.

Jammal Goodman, a 31-year-old, Brooklyn, N.Y., native, is one of four Huntington police officers among 38 basic officers scheduled to graduate Friday, Aug. 20, from the West Virginia State Police Academy in Institute.

"He's an outstanding young man," Holbrook said. "I'm very proud of the fact that we were able to find somebody of his quality, and he's going to be an asset to our department and the community."

But the effort doesn't stop with Goodman's swearing in, the chief said.

Holbrook told NAACP leaders he accepted the past criticism and took action. His department has received input from the Fairfield West neighborhood, expanded its recruiting zone to 300 miles and started targeting minority universities and colleges.

"Our department needed to represent the community in terms of its makeup," he said in recalling past criticism. "I do agree with that. ... We need to do better."

Minorities account for about 10 percent of the population in the city of Huntington and about 4.5 percent for the Huntington-Ashland metro area, according to Census statistics.

Holbrook views doing better as a key necessity to his department maintaining its standards.

"We want to foster a relationship, foster those qualities that we need that makes men and women want to come and be a Huntington police officer and be proud of this profession," he said.

Sometimes meeting that desire requires a better first impression. Huntington Police Capt. Hank Dial said the department met with an agency to redevelop its recruitment brochures and advertising campaign. For instance, he said previous advertisements consisted of "Wanted" billboards and posters more closely resembling a method used to catch a fugitive.

"We're now stepping out of that," Dial said. "That almost has a negative connotation. So we're changing all of that."

The captain told attendees they could see products of the new campaign as early as October with testing to begin in January 2011. He said the new campaign has been developed by professionals, who advised the department as to necessary items that should be included to attract certain demographics.

Dial said applicants likely will have until late January 2011 to apply.

But improving the department's relationship with minorities doesn't stop at recruiting.

Holbrook told attendees it also involves being selective as to whom the department hires. His administration has developed a review board, which includes members of the African-American community. Among its members are local NAACP branch president Silvia Ridgeway, the Rev. Reginald Hill of Antioch Missionary Baptist Church and a member of Cabell County Schools.

"We want other people in the community, not just police officers, to participate in that process and give us that feedback," Holbrook said. "If they see something in a recruit or applicant that causes a red flag to go up, we want to know that, and we want to look into it and make sure we're making good decisions."

After the applicant leaves the room, Dial said the review board engages in a conversation. They discuss the interview and receive the community members' input.

"There's been folks that we've decided not to hire after that discussion," Dial said. "We pretty much agree pretty quickly when it's one of those folks."

Coston Davis Jr. , the president for the state and Charleston NAACP branches, spoke of his efforts to help the Charleston Police Department recruit black officers. He would attend the physical and written test to encourage black applicants. He urged Huntington's community to do the same, step past the last 16 years and join the enhanced strategy.

"I would shake each one of their hands as they came in to let them know the NAACP is supportive of this initiative," he said. "It's not just a one-way street. It has to be a two-way street. We have to show the same commitment that they're showing. It's not going to happen overnight. It's a process."

At the NAACP meeting, comments from Holbrook and Dial did garner some questions and slight criticism, including from Phil Carter, a social work professor at Marshall University.

"That's inexcusable," he said of the department's 16-year span in hiring its last black officer. "I mean I don't understand how that could happen."

Carter excused Holbrook as he has only been chief for a short time, but he criticized the department, calling the lack of minority representation a "systemic problem" demanding "something has to drastically be done in order to break that cycle."

"I completely agree," Holbrook said.

Another attendee asked about specific goals, such as how many minority officers the chief wanted to hire by 2012.

"Our goal is to continue to enhance our recruitment efforts to attract as many minority applicants as possible," Holbrook replied. "To me the goal is to attract as many qualified applicants as possible."

Carter encouraged the police chief to seek input for black community members who possess a high level of afrocentric understanding and black consciousness. Particularly those experienced in dealing with youth within the black community.

Huntington Police graduates

The following Huntington Police Department officers are set to graduate Friday, Aug. 20, from the West Virginia State Police Academy in Institute, W.Va.

Stephen Maniskas, 26, of Huntington.

Joseph Koher, 34, a former resident of New Orleans and Berea, Ky., now living in Huntington.

Jammal Goodman, 31, a Brooklyn, New York City, native now living in Huntington.

Danny McSweeny, 32, of Huntington.

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