Only three minorities on Jax police force currently

By Jim McCabe on August 31 at 8:09am

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Jacksonville’s police chief says his department is always seeking to hire more minorities.

The comments come about two weeks after U.S. Senator Mark Kirk stated that diversity in the police force could help Illinois cities avoid violent protests similar to what has plagued the Missouri town of Ferguson.

Earlier this month, an unarmed African-American teenager was killed in the St. Louis suburb by a white police officer.

Nearly 2,000 Jacksonville residents identified themselves as African-American in the 2010 census, which is about ten percent of the 19,446 people counted. About 85 percent of the city is white.

However, JPD chief Tony Grootens says only two police officers on a Jacksonville Police staff of 40 are black. One is Hispanic.

“I feel it’s very much an asset that we should strive for. I think it helps us, it helps the community. We don’t assign black officers to black areas, necessarily. They may work that area, they may not,” he says.

“But, just by having a diverse police force, I think, helps the image of the police department. It also helps the people of the community to see that we seek to be diverse.”

Grootens says there are certain guidelines the police department has to go by to hire officers. Applicants are put on an “eligibility list” that gets updated every other year. He says the lists usually have about 60 names; the last list had two black applicants. One of them- in the top ten percentile- was hired.

“We can’t control where they rank on the list. That’s done by their ability to do the [physical training], do the written [exam], and to do the oral interview,” says Grootens.

“But if you get in the top ten on our list, we’re going to take a hard look at you some time in the next couple years.”

While District 117 has been dealing with protesters the past two weeks who say the district isn’t doing enough to hire minorities, the district’s superintendent has stated that there is a problem with enough qualified minorities applying. That’s a position Grootens also takes.

“And a lot of that may be a cultural thing, the way some blacks perceive the police. Or, it may be just that they don’t want to get into police work. They may want to get into something to make more money; maybe they don’t want to do public service because, let’s face it, police jobs, teachers jobs, nursing jobs, they’re not the best paying jobs,” he says.

“And maybe they want to get into something that will benefit them and their families more.”

CBS News at the top of the hour on AM 1180 WLDS will continue to provide the latest updates on the aftermath of the Ferguson shooting.

How do you view the relationship between the city’s police force and the African-American community? Visit the poll on our website.