IN PORTLAND, I guess, this is progress. The police bureau this year has brought on 33 new cops—two are black, four are Latino, and one is Asian. Of the 33, three are women.
That may not sound like much, but consider the past two years of hiring: Sixty-seven new cops had their names read aloud at hiring ceremonies, and only one was black. None were Latino.
And as statistically insignificant as this year's gains might be, they were deemed big enough that Police Chief Mike Reese found himself standing next to Mayor Sam Adams last Wednesday, May 25, shaking hands and smiling for a picture.
In a slightly stupefying twist, the police bureau—the last city office to even assemble a diversity-improvement plan—had just won one of five "Diversity Champion Awards" handed out by Portland city government this year.
Heady news for a bureau that had, as of September 2009, only 33 black officers—out of nearly 1,000 total. Did I mention that one of the award's judges works in the cop shop? Not that there's any connection.
I called Awards Coordinator Donnie Adair last week for some thoughts on the bureau's recent hires—a laudable, if tiny baby step. Was the fix in after a rough PR year for the bureau? Or was this a genuine attempt to encourage Reese's nascent push? Adair didn't phone back.
But council gushed over the decision, highlighting the "major effort" that Reese and the cop brass made in recruiting minorities and women from other cities. Next to Adair, Human Resources Director Yvonne Deckard noted the bureau's "commitment to hiring and diversifying the workforce."
Dan Handelman of Portland Copwatch said something else. He called the award "a joke."
"While the hiring that just occurred may have improved the pool of officers of color, the bureau still has less than four percent African American officers in a city that is six percent black," he pointed out in a statement.
Handelman also noted that the chief's brain trust and inner sanctum—the precinct commanders, assistant chiefs, and civilian operations director—are still a bunch of white guys.
Consider: Last year, Reese appointed one of his bandmates, Mike Kuykendall, as operations director, angering many in the black community. When North Precinct Commander Jim Ferraris announced his retirement this spring, a white guy replaced him.
Handelman's point is a good one. If real change starts from the top, then there's actually been precious little of it. And maybe that's what the city should consider before handing out feel-good pieces of paper.
Editor's note: A previous version of this column listed a newly appointed police bureau spokesman among the white guys Reese tapped for senior positions. Lieutenant Robert King has kindly informed the Mercury that he's partly Latino.