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N.Y. department hires first black recruits in 40 years

By Michael Frazier, Staff Writer

Neither of the two experienced recruits who will be sworn in today at Long Beach City Hall thought much about what it would mean to be the first black police officers hired by the city in nearly 40 years.

That's because when officers Anderson Joseph, 34, and Allan Alexandre, 27, first sought the jobs months ago, they were unaware no blacks were on the 75-member force.

Now the officers understand how important joining the force is to the city and its minority community after a national microscope recently focused on the city's lack of black officers.

"Us being here can show other people, especially [black] residents of Long Beach, that it's not impossible to be here," said Joseph, who formerly served with New York City police for six years. "I don't feel any added pressure. I'm here to do a job as a police officer, and that's what I'll do."

Joseph, of Baldwin, and Alexandre, of Elmont, are among four officers to be sworn in today. Rounding out the group are Stephanie Peri, 29, and Brian Wells, 27, both of Long Beach. All are former New York City cops. The recruits were exclusively interviewed by Newsday yesterday.

Peri, who is white, said a mostly white force doesn't accurately reflect the community. "It's long overdue," she said.

Long Beach has some 35,000 residents, about 7 percent of whom are black. But no blacks have been hired since 1968, the year Martin Luther King Jr. was slain.

However, at least two black officers had been hired before then and served years before retiring.

Civil rights groups over the years criticized the lack of black officers, while police pointed to strapped budgets and a limited hiring pool. A few years ago, a requirement that police live in the city was dropped, to help. Also, Police Commissioner Thomas Sofield established a diversity task force last year.

"I'm glad the department identified a problem and addressed it," said Alexandre.

Pastor Carlton Mobley of Long Beach said today's swearing-in ceremony should be just the beginning.

"We are not completely satisfied," said Mobley, of Christian Light Missionary Baptist Church. "This needs to be a catalyst and I hope they will continue to look to bring other people of color, not just African- Americans."

With the new hires, blacks make up 2.5 percent of the force, Hispanics are 10 percent and Asians are 1 percent.

Alexandre acknowledged that many residents view him and Joseph as modern-day pioneers. "I realize there will be additional attention and we'll be looked at closely," he said. "I'll show that there are officers of color who can serve at the same caliber as anybody."

Despite the national attention and a protest last month outside City Hall, Lt. Bruce Meyer, a spokesman for Long Beach police, said all the candidates were selected because they were best for the city.

"Forget about race, forget about gender," said Meyer, also a lead recruiter. "All things considered, these are the four best."

Allan Alexandre, 27, of Elmont. Served with the NYPD for 2 years. Trained with the Department of Homeland Security as a transportation security screener. Graduated from Howard University in 2002. While there, was a research assistant using DNA to identify human remains from the Vietnam War for the Department of Defense.

Stephanie Peri, 29, grew up and lives in Long Beach, where she worked for 10 years at a local ice cream shop. Served 3 years with the NYPD. Graduated from Buffalo State College and studied at Nassau Community College and the University of Salamanca, Spain. Speaks Spanish. Coached girls lacrosse team at Long Beach Junior High School.

Brian Wells, 27, lives with his wife and three children in Long Beach. Graduated Oct. 31 from the State Police academy. Worked 4 years in the NYPD. Served in the Marine Corps and was awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal and the Good Conduct Award. Studied at Arizona Western College and Nassau Community College.

Anderson Joseph, 34, of Baldwin. Worked 6 years for the NYPD. Served in the Army 1990-99, reaching rank of sergeant. Saw combat in Desert Storm and Bosnia. As a member of an Army task force, fought drugs in Peru, Bolivia, Colombia, and the Mexico-California border. Received the Overseas Ribbon and a NATO Service Ribbon.

Copyright 2006 Newsday, Inc.

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