Chattanooga-area emergency service agencies look to boost minority hiring

Staff photo by Doug Strickland A Chattanooga Police badge placard is seen at the Police Services Center in Chattanooga.
Staff photo by Doug Strickland A Chattanooga Police badge placard is seen at the Police Services Center in Chattanooga.
photo John Stuermer

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EMPLOYEES BY RACEChattanooga Police DepartmentWhite: 427Black: 138Hispanic: 17American Indian: 7Asian: 3Total sworn and civilian employees: 592Hamilton County 911White: 146Black: 27Total employees: 173Chattanooga Fire DepartmentWhite: 280Black: 100Hispanic: 7Total sworn employees: 387Sources: Chattanooga Police Department, Chattanooga Fire Department, Hamilton County 911

Three Chattanooga-area emergency service agencies are hoping to bolster their numbers of black, Hispanic and minority employees through a proposed internship program.

The Chattanooga Police Department, Chattanooga Fire Department and Hamilton County 911 want to work together to launch a "Minority Internship Program" that would include 15 minority interns.

The interns would work part time - five people at each agency - in order to be better prepared to become firefighters, dispatchers or police officers and to get a taste for what the job is like, agency leaders said.

The fire department and police department are each asking the city for $78,600 in the 2015-2016 fiscal budget to fund the program. Hamilton County 911 has committed the same amount for the program.

All of the agencies are made up of overwhelmingly white employees.

Seventy-two percent of the fire department's sworn personnel are white. At the police department, 72 percent of all employees are white, and at the Hamilton County 911 Center about 74 percent of employees are white.

That's higher than the ratio of white and black residents of Chattanooga, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. About 58 percent of Chattanooga's population is white and 34 percent is black, according to the census. In Hamilton County, about 20 percent of the population is black.

John Stuermer, executive director of Hamilton County 911 Emergency Communications District, said he'd like the races of his employees to better match the county's demographics.

"We are not where we want to be," he said. "We've tried multiple things to improve our demographics with minorities but they have not proven to do well. We would like to represent our community; that is the goal."

The interns would earn $15 an hour and work no more than 20 hours a week. If the program is funded, the interns would spend time working at each agency, police Chief Fred Fletcher said.

"The recruiting agency would have their interns for say two-thirds of the time, and then a third of the time would be split at the other departments," he said.

Fletcher hopes the internship can be used as a way to keep recruits interested in a job at the department even if the department is between academies. The police department only offers police academies once or twice a year to train new recruits.

"Since we only offer a class at most every six months, we wouldn't want to lose those highly sought-after candidates," he said. "We want to bridge the gap."

Stuermer said the agencies have not yet set a start date for the program because the funding has not been approved for the city agencies. If the funding is approved, agency leaders will start to put together a curriculum and decide when to launch the internship.

Contact staff reporter Shelly Bradbury at 423-757-6525 or with tips or story ideas.

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