By Paul Egan
Twenty-two years after it was freed from federal oversight for failing to hire enough blacks, women and other minorities, the Michigan State Police has relapsed into a department overwhelmingly dominated by white males.
Today, the 59 blacks among the 1,134 state troopers represent less than half the number the State Police had when a federal consent decree was lifted in 1993, during which time the percentage of black troopers in the department has plummeted from 12.5% to 5.2%.
And in a sign the declining trend could continue, only 14, or just more than 3%, of the last 430 recruits to graduate from the department's six most recent trooper schools -- all held since Republican Gov. Rick Snyder took office in 2011 -- have been black.
"Everybody became complacent," said retired Capt. Jack Hall, who made history in 1967 as the first black Michigan State Police trooper. "They reverted back to where they were before."
Beyond blacks, the percentage of troopers who belong to any so-called visible minority has dropped from 16.5% to 10.3% since federal oversight ended, and the percentage who are women has fallen from 10.9% to 8.3%. When all 1,774 enlisted personnel are looked at, the 108 blacks -- down from 222 in 1993 -- comprise only 6.1% of the department.
"I would agree that's not where I want to be," Col. Kriste Kibbey Etue, who in 2011 became the first female director of the Michigan State Police, told the Free Press in a Friday interview. But recent steps the department has taken should begin to pay dividends with the next recruit school, expected early next year, and "I'm very optimistic you're going to see a diverse State Police."
She rejected Hall's suggestion that the leadership of the department doesn't care about the issue.
"Since 2012, the MSP has participated in 363 recruiting events around the state," Etue said. "Nearly three-quarters of these events were in urban areas for exposure to more diverse applicants."
"We're working very hard on it," but "it isn't going to happen overnight," she said.
Hall, who rose to the rank of captain, spent much of his career focused on enhanced recruitment of blacks and other visible minorities, especially after the U.S. Justice Department sued the MSP in 1975 alleging discrimination against minorities and women.
Hall said many of the black troopers he helped recruit are now at or near retirement age. If things don't change quickly, in less than 10 years, the "State Police is going to be all white, or it's going to be 99.5% white," he said.
"It concerns me because ... we busted our buns to get the enrollment as high as it was," and "it doesn't seem like anybody cares. If you don't care about the diversity within the department, you won't have it."
Blacks make up 14.3% of Michigan's population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Most academics and policing experts agree it's important for a police force to reflect the racial composition of the population it patrols. They say recent unrest in Ferguson, Mo., in the wake of a shooting of a black man by a white police officer underscores that fact.
Michigan hasn't had a recent situation comparable to the one in Ferguson, but the potential for conflict has increased as the state has sent increased numbers of the mostly white MSP into the mostly black cities of Detroit, Flint and Saginaw in an effort to help local police forces reduce high crime rates.
Etue said the MSP tries to deploy more black troopers in urban areas, and recruiting minorities is a challenge for all police departments. She said she doesn't know how many black police officers are likely to retire in the next five years.
Justin McCrary, a law professor at the University of California at Berkeley who studies police diversity issues, said it's common for police departments to slip backward in terms of diversity after a federal consent decree is lifted, because it was only those federal orders that empowered agencies to bypass civil service requirements under which hiring is contingent on test performance.
Unless the department has a comprehensive plan in place to continue enhanced recruitment efforts when the court order is lifted -- most do not -- the percentage of blacks and other minorities will begin to fall, he said.
"That's a national challenge," McCrary said.
Etue said the freeze on trooper schools during the economic recession of the 2000s resulted in all forms of MSP recruitment grinding to a halt.
The department is now rebuilding that system and last June put 1st Lt. Robert Hendrix, who is black, in charge of all recruitment efforts.
The MSP also scrapped its 20-year-old civil service exam last year in favor of one that is more modern and relevant and does not have a subjective essay answer section, expanded the number of locations where the test can be written, and did away with a requirement that new recruits be initially posted at least 100 miles from home, she said.
The entire application process has been streamlined so potential applicants can know more quickly whether and when they might have a job.
And recruitment fairs are being held in urban areas, she said.
Charles Blockett Jr., a black human resources consultant in Lansing who in December completed his term on the Michigan Civil Service Commission, which oversees state hiring and employment conditions, has been sounding the alarm about the increasingly white face of the MSP. He said the performance of State Police managers should be evaluated, in part, based on their success in recruiting, hiring, and retaining and promoting blacks and other minorities.
Asked whether the State Police should implement such a policy for its managers, Etue said: "I just want them to treat all of the employees in the State Police fairly."
Snyder's office issued a statement Friday that said the governor "is aware of the challenges the State Police face in creating a more diverse force, and he's supportive of the department's efforts," but "we need to do more and we need to keep working hard to have a force that better reflects our state."
Blockett used the Michigan Freedom of Information Act to obtain data about the racial makeup of recent MSP recruitment schools after his requests as a civil service commissioner went unanswered.
The paltry minority numbers in recent trooper schools "will negatively affect the diversity of MSP for years to come," he said.
"They took their eyes off the ball," Blockett said. "It's not just this administration. It goes all the way back to the (former Republican Gov. John) Engler administration and the (former Democratic Gov. Jennifer) Granholm administration."
Hall, who has a master's degree in public administration, said there were several elements to the enhanced minority recruitment efforts used during the consent decree. All blacks and other minorities in the department were expected to actively recruit qualified people they knew, he said. That's also the case in the MSP today, Etue said.
Hall logged thousands of miles across Michigan aboard a "recruitmobile" -- a modified recreational vehicle with displays inside about the MSP. He visited schools, social clubs and churches where large numbers of blacks and other minorities congregated.
"The reason you need affirmative action is because, regardless of what the circumstances are, people want to hire people who look like them," Hall said. "Everybody needs a little boot in the behind."
Extra recruitment efforts are also needed because joining a police force is often influenced by family traditions, and few blacks have fathers or uncles who served in the State Police, Hall said. What's more, many don't have positive experiences or impressions of police growing up. And the entire department benefits when it can draw on the experiences of people from diverse backgrounds, he said.
Even Hall, growing up in Benton Harbor, said he never intended to become a police officer. He never had a bad experience with the cops growing up but remembers gruff white officers ordering him and his brother to go home if they were out after dark.
"Most young blacks in my neighborhood don't say 'OK, my lifelong ambition is to be a State Police officer, or to be a police officer, period,' " Hall said. "You just didn't see any cool police officers."
But he helped sell the idea to many young blacks who weren't considering the State Police as a career option.
Despite having its first female director in Etue, the MSP also has moved backward in terms of gender representation. Only 8.3% of state troopers are women, down from 10.9% when the consent decree was lifted in 1993, and 13.4% in 2000.
"That is disappointing," Etue said, adding that she expects improvements in those numbers as well.
The department hasn't recruited a black female trooper since 2004.
There were no female troopers of any race at the time of the federal lawsuit -- only seven policewomen, not assigned to regular road duties.
Male colleagues nicknamed them the "trooperettes."
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