That’s what our infamous former managing editor said when I told him that the City of Geneva had finally turned over the police eligibility lists that I’d requested via FOIA all the way back in October. The irony, of course, is, this baseless battle that went all the way to the Illinois Attorney General’s office and cost Geneva taxpayers between $3,000 and $6,000, was rendered moot by a State statute mandating the release of all such eligibility lists and test scores.
And I certainly want to thank the astute reader for pointing that out. Now Geneva has actually posted that list online.
The surprising thing was, there was no surprise. Given their disproportionate reticence, I was convinced the City of Geneva was trying to hide something. But in the end, after comparing those lists to new GPD hires and conferring with my former police chief radio co-host, Larry Jones, it would appear that everything is working exactly as it should be.
It would also appear that former St. Charles and current Schaumberg Police Chief Jim Lamkin was right – minorities are not applying to suburban police departments. I reviewed five separate Kane County eligibility lists and there weren’t a heck of a lot of Hispanic names on them. Granted, using surnames as the determining factor is far from perfect, but it’s also far better than nothing.
C’mon! If your last name is Grabowski, O’Connell, or Heinrich, you’re probably not Hispanic. Again, though it’s eminently unscientific, I’d put the number of minority applicants somewhere between 10 to 15 percent.
So while the process seems to be working, perhaps it’s the process that’s the problem. Much like standardized academic tests favor Caucasians, when you’re looking at 95 plus percent white suburban officers, one has to wonder if we’re seeing the same sort of thing at work here. Perhaps it’s time to review the tests.
But when you consider that Kane County boasts a 41 percent minority population, a potentially unfair testing practice can’t explain that huge hiring disparity. Once again, I turned to my capable co-host who came up with some interesting thoughts on the lack of minority applicants.
And the first was that minorities don’t consider police work a worthy pursuit. Though that’s virtually impossible to measure, considering how they can be treated by the police, it does have the ring of truth. And you certainly can’t hire someone who hasn’t applied.
The second is that the minorities who choose to pursue a law enforcement career believe they’ll have more opportunity to apply those skills in a city like Aurora or Elgin. Again, it’s difficult to measure, but it does sound like a plausible explanation. To a large degree, policing is about giving back to the community and we tend to think about our own backyard first.
I would also add that white police departments beget white police departments. Who wants to be the first or only Hispanic face on the force? This kind of monochromatic reality might make some minorities feel like they don’t even have a shot.
But none of those potential possibilities matter because, even though the basis for this phenomenon isn’t clear, the solution is – make an effort to attract and make minority candidates feel welcome. Corporations recruit the best minority candidates all the time and here’s one instance where government actually can be run like a business.
The one thing that all of the chiefs agreed on in the Jake Griffin piece that inspired my pursuit is that diversity is a good thing. It’s something to be sought after. So seek it! I’m not saying the smaller departments have to follow Elgin’s lead by going all the way to Puerto Rico, but that recruiting trip certainly did make a massive point.
That kind of effort may take persistence and time, but it’s well worth it.
And lastly, though I’ve probably picked on Geneva a bit too much of late, the FOIA battle required to get their lists belies a bunker mentality that’s far too common among many municipal administrators.
Thankfully, through my newspaper days, I’ve learned how to effectively fight a FOIA request refusal, but the average citizen is much more likely to give up even when faced with the most bizarre reason for withholding the information. And the continued deterioration of the local press is making it that much worse.
For every South Elgin that will happily provide the data without a formal FOIA, there’s a Geneva and Carpentersville who will simply ignore the statutes if it suits their whim. Geneva’s gone as far as denying city council document requests until I issued a FOIA and sent them to the aldermen myself.
The lesson here is that pays to pay attention! Because if you don’t, there are folks like Geneva’s City Manager who will do their damndest to abuse the truth and try to get away with whatever they think they can.
It may be a bit overwrought (though I’m really good at that kind of thing), but I’ll leave you with a quote from Albert Camus’ classic, The Plague:
“What’s natural is the microbe. All the rest – health, integrity, purity (if you like) – is a product of the human will, of a vigilance that must never falter. The good man, the man who infects hardly anyone, is the man who has the fewest lapses of attention.”