Black Police Applicant Frustrated by Opaque Hiring Process

Corye Douglas, 28, at the National Guard offices on Staten Island. Credit Ángel Franco/The New York Times

Corye Douglas, 28, at the National Guard offices on Staten Island. Credit Ángel Franco/The New York Times

The morning news flickered on the television while Corye Douglas was drinking his first cup of vanilla chai at home in Brooklyn. Then, a bulletin about the New York Police Department caught his ear.

He looked up. He listened. He fumed.

The newscast described the furor that erupted last month after Police Commissioner William J. Bratton cited criminal records of young black men as an obstacle to the department’s efforts to recruit African-Americans. Mr. Douglas, a 28-year-old black college graduate who is also a sergeant in the National Guard, knew the department’s problems ran far deeper.

Mr. Douglas, who does not have a criminal record, passed the police officer exam in 2011. He went through orientation and started undergoing the required background checks in 2013. Then, the process stopped cold. No emails. No calls. No explanations. Silence. For a year and a half.

This month, Mr. Douglas wrote to me, at a loss for what had gone wrong. He had no idea that his case highlighted administrative problems in the hiring process that have stymied many qualified African-American applicants, even as officials strive to diversify the department.

Generations of New Yorkers have staked their middle-class dreams on passing the police test and getting through the long and sometimes bewildering hiring process. (Police officers earn a total compensation package of $90,829 annually after five and a half years. That does not include overtime.)

In a statement posted on the department’s website last month, in which he sought to clarify his remarks about African-American recruits, Mr. Bratton said that while “young men with felony records do reduce the available pool of black police candidates,” the “recruiting challenge stems much more from problems with our own recruiting system.”

The hiring process can take four years or more, Mr. Bratton said, leaving applicants who are unfamiliar with the system feeling adrift and discouraged.

White applicants, who are far more likely than their black counterparts to have relatives, friends and neighbors on the force, often know someone who can help navigate the bureaucracy. By contrast, many African-Americans end up dropping out of the application process, police officials say.

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