Unified Government trying to increase racial diversity in police, fire departments

Mayor Mark Holland creates task force

KANSAS CITY, Kan. - The history of a white police force in a predominantly black city created racial tension in Ferguson, Missouri, earlier this month. That tension led to public anger, even violent at some times, and that anger spilled onto the streets of the town after the shooting death of 19-year old Michael Brown by a Ferguson police officer.

While the Department of Justice works with the Ferguson Police Department to improve the diversity in their department and their relationship with the community, the Unified Government in Wyandotte County started to question the diversity in their department in 2013.

"I believe if someone had asked these questions in Ferguson 10 years ago, there would've been a very different outcome from the tragedy that happened. I don't want to be that community," Mayor Mark Holland said.

Holland noted there were no African-Americans in last fall's graduating firefighter class in Kansas City, Kansas. Seeing this, he reached out to the Department of Justice for help.

"We have great young men coming in, qualified and capable young men. I’m very proud of our class, but as I walked across the stage it was clear to me and clear to a number of our commissioners as well that they don't represent the diversity of our community. We hired 42 new firefighters and not one is African-American. I think that's a problem," Holland said.

Holland said the last several months have been dedicated to pulling the numbers and putting together a plan. According to data provided by the Unified Government, blacks and Hispanics represent 55 percent of the population in Wyandotte County, but they only represent 23 percent of the police department and 13 percent of the fire department. The latter two percentages include all department employees.

"The police department is out on the streets day in and day out and when there are tensions with the public it tends to be with the police department just because of their role I think the fire department with their role has not had the same level of scrutiny but I think we need to raise that level of scrutiny."

With help from the Department of Justice, Holland put together a task force of local leaders who will address diversity issues. The leaders include, among others, both the chief of police and fire, Reverend Jimmie Banks, Cedric Patton and Virginia Sewing with the NAACP and Sherriff Don Ash. 

"It's clear to me that when we send out our public safety, whether its police, fire, sheriffs, whomever we send out, we ought to send out a group of people that represent our community and our community can look at and feel good about and have confidence and can trust they're going to be treated well," said Holland.

Holland also noted that they were working to improve gender diversity within public safety and recruit more people who are from Wyandotte County. 

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