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‘Still on the farm’: NY State Police struggles to diversify

An equal blend of black and white ribbon, the gray uniform worn by the New York State Police stands to the impartiality of justice.

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‘Still on the farm’: NY State Police struggles to diversify

However, this attire belies disparities within the bureau, which for generations has failed to fulfill its positions with troopers who represent New York's diverse population.

The bureau remains overwhelmingly white -- an imbalance some troopers say is suspended in a heritage of racism.

Of more than 4,700 troopers, only 4 percent are Black and 6 percent are Hispanic -- paltry proportions in comparison to the 16 percent and 19% of the country population those groups constitute.

A half-dozen minority troopers told The Associated Press discrimination has thrived over the ranks, despite the agency was ordered to increase by a judge from the 1970s.

One Black former State Police investigator, Michael Marin, recalled that a white colleague admonishing him 2008 to"take the cotton you have been picking your ears out."

"It was just like I was on the farm," said Marin, who murdered in 2019. "It did not appear extraordinary to me personally because that's how that job was."

Trooper Lethonia Miller filed a complaint from a snowy supervisor for using racial slurs more than a dozen occasions in his presence. He said"the culture in the State Authorities was systemically racist."

"It's depressing to work as hard as you can and still be considered less compared to white male counterparts. Each time that I heard the term it was as if I was being told,'You are second class. '''

Recent leaders acknowledge the bureau's lack of diversity has become more urgent amid a national reckoning over racial injustice.

"You can not just keep doing the same thing and expect different outcomes," acting Superintendent Kevin Bruen said in a meeting. "We patrol the state, so our ethnic breakdown should approximately mirror that. To say it is a priority for me would be an understatement."

New York's is only one state police force much whiter than its state population. Each of 38 state police departments that provided demographic information to the AP had a disproportionately high number of white troopers, compared to each nation's population.

The Maryland State Police, for example, is over 80 percent non-Hispanic white; that demographic group constitutes only half the nation's population. And although 30 percent of the Maryland population is non-Hispanic Black, just 12 percent of the country police force is Black.

The U.S. Justice Department sued New York in 1977 for discriminated against minorities in promoting and hiring troopers, who patrol New York's highways, and, in certain parts of the state, respond to 911 calls and investigate offenses.

At the moment, just 13 of the bureau's 2,712 troopers were Dark. A federal judge cautioned that 40% of recruits entering the State Police training academy be Hispanic or black, wanting to bring minority representation in line with the nation's workforce.

The same judge dissolved the curative hiring goals in 1989 after the agency managed to maximize its Hispanic and Black representation to 9% and 6%, respectively. The consent decree was quietly lifted in its entirety in 2015 after the country claimed it had made"great strides"

The proportion of Dark troopers had dropped to 6% by mid-2014 and has continued to decrease.

Those percentages of minorities, who can also be underrepresented in senior leadership positions, are"as good as almost nothing," said Michael Jenkins, a policing expert who teaches criminal justice at the University of Scranton. "The agency is in a challenging position to argue differently."

Bruen, who assumed control of the State Police this past year, agrees the agency's minority recruiting program needs work.

In 1 measure, the agency is left a necessity that potential recruits take tests in person at state authorities buildings that can be tricky to achieve and allowing candidates to perform the exams electronically.

"You could take this test in Okinawa, Japan, and get onto our list," Bruen said.

"What we need to do is reach people who do not necessarily picture themselves as troopers," Bruen added.

State Police brass acknowledge change won't come easily, especially at a time when law enforcement agencies seek to rebuild trust in minority communities. The very same challenges exist within the agency.

Superimposing her encounter on that of a Black lady at work in a kitchen, it was captioned"House of Chitlins" -- a reference to food scraps awarded to slaves.

"It essentially solidified for me who I was dealing with," Bryson said, including the incident occurred eight or nine years back. "I look forward to the day when I could honestly say the State Police takes racism seriously. Part and parcel of the issue is that it's not punished. You might suspend somebody, but there is no instructional arm to this."

Another former deputy superintendent, Anthony Ellis, remembered that a disciplinary case involving a white trooper who pulled over a Black motorist driving a young white woman asleep in his passenger seat using a blanket and pillow. The trooper ordered the woman out of the vehicle to make sure she was fine.

Ellis, who headed the State Police internal affairs bureau at the time, stated a fellow ranking officer found no issue with the trooper's directive, describing it"could have turned into a carjacking."

"However, I told my (colleague),'If you think somebody doing a carjacking brings a cushion and a blanket, you are in the incorrect line of work. '''

Tensions constructed last year following the heads of both the troopers and investigators marriages backed Donald Trump for reelection. "Troopers for Trump" T-shirts began circulating at New York State Police barracks.

"It created this true problem for members of color," who were not consulted before the exemptions,'' Bryson said.

"We're at a crossroads," Bryson said. "I still think that gray in the uniform could be impartial. We just have to try to make it a perfect combination."

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