Chattanooga police will pay cash to community members and officers who recruit minority men and women into the department as part of an effort to boost racial diversity, officials said Monday.
The Each One Reach One program will award $500 to anyone who convinces a black or Hispanic applicant to enter the police academy and train to become an officer, police Chief Fred Fletcher said. The initiative is funded by a $10,000 grant from the Community Foundation of Greater Chattanooga and applies to recruits who sign up after Oct. 14.
Fletcher hopes the program will encourage citizens and officers to use personal relationships to recruit for the police department. The next police academy will include 40 recruits.
"This is the real promise of this program — truly meaningful relationships are built one-on-one, they're not built with billboards and magazine ads, they're built people to people, which was the genesis of this program," Fletcher said.
Both the referrer and the recruit will be vetted by the city before the referrer collects the $500, Fletcher said, to ensure there are no conflicts of interest and that the rules of the program were followed.
In both the 2014 and 2015 fiscal years, Chattanooga's police officers were 78 percent white, 18 percent black and 3 percent Hispanic. Census data shows the city, however, is about 58 percent white and 35 percent black, and the police department has long worked to raise the number of minority officers to reflect the city's population.
Yet, despite efforts by various administrations, the percentage of black officers has hovered around 20 percent for two decades, Times Free Press records show.
For comparison, in Knoxville the population is about 76 percent white and 17 percent black, while the police department was 93 percent white and six percent black in 2014, according to its annual report.
The Urban League of Greater Chattanooga — which works to help African-Americans and other disadvantaged people secure economic self-reliance, parity, power and civil rights — is supporting the new program and will work with police to refer applicants, president and CEO Warren Logan said at a new conference Monday.
The announcement came just a few days after the Department of Justice released an 80-page report that examined diversity in law enforcement across the country, highlighting agencies using promising programs to increase diversity.
The report applauded two programs in Chattanooga — a minority internship program designed to boost minority hiring at the police department, 911 center and the fire department, as well as a committee of citizens and officers Fletcher created to revamp hiring and promotion procedures at the police department.
Launched this summer, the minority internship program allowed 15 interns to work 20 hours a week for 12 weeks at the police department, Hamilton County 911 and the fire department. Five interns worked at each agency, and each intern also spent some time working at the other two agencies.
The goal was to introduce the interns to the agencies and help prepare them for full-time positions.
Of the five interns who worked at the police department, two are currently attending the police academy to become officers, Fletcher said. Two others plan to apply for future academies, while the final intern is going through additional mentoring and training in order to be prepared for the written and physical tests the academy requires, he said.
Fletcher said he was happy with the results of the first internship.
"My goal is if we can have a 20 percent conversion rate, it would be a success," he said. "And we had a minimum 40 percent on the first class."
A new set of interns should start this month, he added.
Researchers with the Department of Justice said such internship programs create a "robust pipeline of potential applicants" while also countering negative perceptions about law enforcement. The report mentioned pro-diversity programs at 27 police departments across the country.
It also highlighted the Chattanooga police department's RESTART committee, a group of citizens and police Fletcher created in 2014 to revamp the department's hiring and promotional processes in light of long-standing officer complaints that the processes were unfair and relied on a "good old boy" network.
RESTART, which stands for Recruiting, Engagement, Selection, Transfer, Assignment, and Retention Team, has already revamped hiring and promotion, Fletcher said, and is now evolving from a reforming committee into a permanent advisory board.
The committee will now offer feedback on various issues as they arise, Fletcher said, such as procedures for body-worn cameras. The panel also reviews every job posting to ensure the qualifications and description are fair and inclusive.
The Department of Justice report named RESTART as a good example of valuable police-community partnerships.
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