Let me get this straight: The New Jersey State Police is failing to become representative of the state’s diversity because it doesn’t have enough black troopers — is that the argument?
Nearly a decade after the agency agreed to boost minority recruitment, roughly eight of every 10 troopers are white men. So that, de facto, means the state police have failed?
Having covered the agency closely for more than 25 years, I can tell you: The force has grown more diverse at the highest levels, especially in recent years. State Police Col. Rick Fuentes relies on a racially mixed group of majors, captains and lieutenants.
Women make up nearly a fifth of his top officers.
Yet critics are pointing to a recent report that says the rate of blacks and Hispanics joining the force overall is nowhere near that of whites.
This year’s new class of troopers has 74 white males of 104 graduates. That does, however, include twice the number of Hispanics as last year’s class, as well as several Asians.
You can’t blame the agency for not reaching out — not with all those ads in various languages in various media.
No, what critics say is that the written and psychological requirements for becoming a trooper are too hard.
What are the State Police supposed to do now? Lower the standards?
Maybe blacks don’t want to become troopers. The racial profiling tag that’s been fixed on the agency isn’t easy to remove, even though a federal monitor this year concluded that the state police continues to properly train, supervise, inspect and audit the management of its troops.
With two-thirds of its force hired after changes in training were first instituted, the reforms have become part of standard operating procedure.
However, there’s no erasing the stain of an April 1998 incident on the New Jersey Turnpike in which officers fired into a van carrying four unarmed minority men, injuring three.
Fuentes said the scrutiny that followed benefited not only the organization but the public. The State Police are now “more professional, more accessible and more transparent,” he said.
The federal monitor even went so far as to praise the agency for its reforms.
Yet just a few years ago, a records review by the Newark Star-Ledger found that minorities and women were failing admission tests — and background checks — at a greater rate than white men.
So where does Fuentes go from here? How is this latest issue “solved”?
Should he be the one required to find an “answer,” or does the public play a role in this?
In that case: Do New Jerseyans really want the standards of what is considered an elite corp of officers tinkered with?
Here’s an unbiased idea: Appoint a dozen people to a blue-ribbon panel of racially diverse New Jerseyans. Be sure to include at least one of the most vehement critics. Have them take the tests, go through the background checks and complete the training at the State Police Academy in Sea Girt.
Then they can tell us whether the agency is giving everyone a fair shake.
(Recruits photo by Jerry DeMarco. All rights reserved.)
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