By Wes Duplantier
BRIDGEPORT, Conn. — Nearly two months after a group of city firefighters asked the federal government to investigate alleged discrimination in the local fire service, a state lawmaker wants the city to review its hiring practices in the Bridgeport Police Department.
State Rep. Charlie Stallworth charged Friday that the city's police department is not hiring enough female and minority officers to adequately represent Bridgeport's population.
"I believe the police department needs to be a reflection of the city, and that people in the city of Bridgeport need to be given an opportunity to work in their own city," said Stallworth, pastor of the East End Baptist Tabernacle Church.
City officials, however, contend the police department goes to great lengths to recruit minority candidates from all neighborhoods in the city.
Bridgeport Police Department spokesman William Kaempffer said Friday that the department puts a lot of effort into recruiting city residents and people of various ethnic backgrounds to join its ranks. That outreach includes going to churches, community events and neighborhoods with large minority populations.
"We spend a large amount of time before we administer a test — months and months and months — all over the city trying to get city residents to become part of our public safety team," Kaempffer said.
Stallworth, D-126, said he is not seeking a federal inquiry by the U.S. Department of Justice like the group of city firefighters. He also said he's not calling for a review by the state Legislature, which recently convened its spring session.
Instead, Stallworth said, he wants an investigation by the city, its Civil Service Commission and community leaders, including local politicians and religious leaders from the Hispanic and African-American communities.
Stallworth, who wants to be part of the process, said including community leaders would bring people who "have no vested interests and no commitments when it comes to returning political favors."
The Bridgeport Police Department said 43 percent of its 425 sworn officers are of minority ethnic backgrounds, with Hispanic officers comprising about 27 percent of the police force and African-American officers making up about 15 percent.
There are also 43 female officers on the force, according to police department officials. If women are also counted as a minority, the proportion of minorities in the police department rises to 48 percent. As their own group, female officers comprise about 10 percent of the total sworn officers, the police department said.
In the 2010 U.S. Census, 34.6 percent of Bridgeport's population was African-American and 38.2 percent was Hispanic. Women made up 51.7 percent of the city's population, according to census data.
Stallworth said the gaps between the census counts and the police figures are unacceptable. He said the current system of background checks makes it too easy for minority candidates to be eliminated from the hiring process.
Kaempffer said all candidates who are city residents get bonus points on their hiring exams. The current bonus increases a candidate's score by 10 percentage points. Kaempffer said in the future, that bump will rise to 15 percentage points.
"In a city that is very diverse, that will assist minority candidates in achieving their goal" of joining the police department, Kaempffer said.
He said the police department also wants to be reflective of the city and to hire the best people for the job.
Although Stallworth said "several" people had expressed concerns to him about the department's hiring practices, he declined to offer any specifics. Stallworth said Friday he plans to speak with Mayor Bill Finch and the police department about his concerns within the next two weeks.
Ruben Felipe, Finch's deputy chief of staff, said both emergency agencies — the police department and the fire department — try to hire people from different backgrounds.
"We go above and beyond to try to ensure our police officers and firefighters reflect the diversity of our city," Felipe said. "As always, we will be happy to sit down with state Rep. Stallworth to discuss any of his questions."
In late December, a group called the Firebirds Society wrote a letter to the U.S. Department of Justice alleging hiring, promotional and disciplinary discrimination within Bridgeport's fire department.
At the time, City Attorney Mark Anastasi categorically denied that the city discriminates against any female or minority firefighting candidates.
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