The chiefs of Anne Arundel's fire and police departments told state lawmakers Friday that they're working to increase diversity within their ranks.
Police Chief Kevin Davis and Fire Chief Michael Cox outlined recruitment plans at the request of delegates after complaints that the departments don't hire enough minorities compared to area demographics.
The issue came to a head last summer when a 72-member fire recruit class included just three minorities, prompting an association representing black firefighters and the local chapter of the NAACP to call for a federal review.
Del. Steve Schuh, a Pasadena Republican who chairs the county delegation, said several lawmakers raised concerns and wanted the chiefs to appear in Annapolis.
"It's clear that minorities are underrepresented in both departments, both in the rank-and-file and the management," Schuh said.
The chiefs acknowledged their departments don't reflect the makeup of the county, which is about 72 percent white, 16 percent African-American, nearly 7 percent Hispanic and nearly 4 percent Asian, according to the Census Bureau.
The Fire Department's 852 professional firefighters and paramedics include 12 percent women and 8 percent minorities, Cox said.
He said he learned of the department's diversity issues — including last summer's recruit class — after taking over as chief in May. After that class' graduation, the International Association of Black Professional Fire Fighters, the NAACP and the local Caucus of African-American Leaders called on the Department of Justice to withhold grants until diversity is improved. The Department of Justice has not acted, according to fire officials.
Cox said the Fire Department wasn't allowed to hire for years, so there hadn't been recruiting of anyone, let alone minorities.
"With no recruitment, you don't have a diverse pool of applicants," he said. The department is poised to hire about 100 firefighters to tackle a new scheduling initiative, and Cox said the department has a plan that includes career fairs and events at places including historically black colleges. It has also requested an increase in the recruiting budget and consulted with a community-based advisory committee.
Del. Joseline Pena-Melnyk, a Democrat whose district includes part of Anne Arundel and Prince George's counties, criticized the Fire Department's previous efforts.
"That is not acceptable," she said. "The numbers are really depressing."
Davis, who took over as police chief in July, said his department also lacks diversity, as it is 89.6 percent white, 7.4 percent African-American and 2.6 percent Latino. Women make up 12 percent of police officers.
"That's unacceptable. I get it," he said.
Davis said getting minorities to apply for the police force isn't a problem — 45 percent of applicants are minorities. But many don't make it through the recruitment process because of its length, lack of mentorship and other factors.
He said he's working to shorten the process from 10 months to about five, send recruits weekly emails updating their status, reduce reliance on polygraph tests and assign mentors to recruits. He said qualified candidates are now reviewed by his top command staff, who make hiring recommendations.
A new police academy class that began Thursday is 19 percent African-American, Davis said.
Diversity in management is also an issue, Davis said. Currently, one of three captains, two of 32 lieutenants and two of 70 sergeants are African-American. There are no Latino captains, two Latino lieutenants and two Latino sergeants, he said.
Carl Snowden, founder of the Caucus of African-American Leaders, was not at Friday's meeting but has met with both chiefs and said they need to follow through. He said diversity can be improved not only through recruiting, but through retaining minority employees and promoting them to leadership roles.
The Fire Department, in particular, can make significant progress as it moves to hire those 100 firefighters, Snowden said. "We'll never see this many positions open again. How they manage this will make all the difference in the world."