Good Minority Applicants Elude Police : Oceanside Says Efforts Failing

Times Staff Writer

Oceanside Police Officer Lou Roane has inherited a perplexing problem.

Charged with augmenting minority representation on the county’s third-largest police force to mirror the community’s demographics and provide better service, Roane has taken part in two outreach programs to recruit quality minority candidates.

But Roane, like his predecessors, is discovering the difficulties of the task.

Even when many minorities apply, as they have in recent years, many of them stumble somewhere along the long and difficult process before earning a badge, Roane said. Often, poor performance on the written exam or a criminal record eliminates minorities early in the selection process.


Not Getting Quality Applicants

“We’re getting a good number of minority applicants, but unfortunately we’re not getting quality minority applicants,” Roane said.

And that leaves Roane, who is in the midst of an intensive effort to bolster manpower at the Oceanside Police Department, without a solution to the recurring problem.

“I’ve been doing this for the past two years,” Roane said. “And we’re still trying to figure out what to do.”

After the release of a consultant’s report last September that revealed many department deficiencies--primarily, the understaffed, overworked force--police recruiters began an advertising campaign announcing efforts to hire more officers.

350 Applications Received

During the one-month campaign, about 350 applications were received. Written exams and rigorous physical tests pared the pool of applicants--both male and female--to 122, Roane said.

Among that group, 68 candidates--or 55.7%--were white males, said Oceanside Personnel Director Mary Kaerth. There were 16 Latino males (13.1%), 14 black males (11.5%), 1 Asian male (.8%) and 1 Native American (.8%), she said.

Among female applicants, 5 were white (4.1%), and there was 1 black, 1 Asian and 1 Native American. There were no female Latino applicants, Kaerth said. She added that 14 applicants declined to designate an ethnic background.

But a review of previous recruiting efforts indicate it is unlikely that many of these minority applicants will be included in the final group of 30 who will be enrolled at the police academy this year, Roane said.

“I was just working on one of them,” Roane said of his review of a minority candidate’s application. “I just happened to pick up his folder and, sure enough, he’s been tried and convicted. A good percentage, I would say about 80-85% of the minority candidates, wash out.”

Besides possessing a criminal record, many minority applicants do poorly on the reading and writing comprehension exam.

And that troubles Roane, one of the handful of black officers on the force. According to Kaerth, 33 of 141 sworn officers are minority members, including women.

But many of the applicants, minority and otherwise, never even make it to this stage of the hiring process, Roane said.

After the recruitment drive, applicants are enrolled in a five-day seminar that provides recruits with a real look at police life, Roane said.

The seminar informs applicants of the required psychological testing, polygraph testing, background check and the rigorous 18-week stay at the Police Academy.

‘You Bleed Real Blood’

“That’s when we try to let them know that their work will be different from the cops they see on TV,” Roane said. “We let them know that, when you get punched in the nose, you bleed real blood. That’s when a lot of people drop out.”

A demanding physical agility test that includes an obstacle run, a 500-yard run to simulate short and long pursuits, wall climbs and 165-pound body drags, and the written exam further eliminate candidates, recruiters say.

The frustration felt by recruiters after their failed attempts to attract high-quality minority applicants is readily apparent.

Last year, the Oceanside Police Department initiated a special outreach program designed specifically to recruit minorities, Roane said. Presentations were made before community minority groups, including women’s organizations and the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People.

“People always accuse us of not hiring enough minorities, so we went out to the public and told them what we were looking for and asked them for their help to find these people,” Roane said.

Outreach Not Used Extensively

But the program failed to noticeably increase the number of minority recruits. As a result, the outreach program is not being used extensively this year, Roane said.

According to police, there is also poor minority representation among lateral transfers--recruits from other police departments.

After a recent statewide recruiting effort, the department has received about 85 applications for a dozen transfer openings, Roane said. Among the group, there are only four Latinos, one female and no blacks. The transfers will be chosen by the end of the month.

“My personal opinion is that minorities with higher education do not want to be in police work,” Roane said. “They want to be lawyers or doctors . . . a white-collar profession. It’s difficult to get those people, and we don’t want the people who have criminal records.

“But there is a middle group out there that is not applying, either,” Roane said. “Those people who haven’t made up their mind yet about what they want to do. That’s the group we have to get, but we haven’t figured out how to. We’re open for suggestions.”