Rank Discord

The cops are reluctant to talk about it. City officials flatly refuse. Who pushed the "mute" button on the most explosive affirmative-action lawsuit Minneapolis has seen in decades?

Banham came to policing because it was in his blood: His father was the first black officer ever hired by the University of Minnesota police force, a man who made lieutenant before retiring in 1984. So Banham Jr. had heard a lot of cop lore by the time he joined the profession. "I always thought the MPD was a very respectful department," he says. "It was the type of place where you didn't come in and cause problems."

Besides, Banham knew how bad things could be: Before coming to the MPD in 1982 he spent six years with the police force in Madison, Wisconsin, which he describes as a nightmare for an African American with aspirations in law enforcement. When he made the switch to Minneapolis he still encountered officers who announced flat out that they didn't like "niggers." But the episodes were few.

"You had to learn to deal with your problems," Banham recalls. "Now, it's nothing for someone to go into their supervisor's office and say, 'I don't want to ride with so-and-so.' Back then, if you tried that you'd get your ass chewed.

"I probably have less problem with the people in the police department than I do with attitudes in society at large," he adds. "It is a brotherhood, you know. It has a tendency to make us all equal."

Relations haven't been so warm between black cops and any of the recent MPD chiefs. "The consistent theme since I came on, both for me and the Black Police Officers Association, has been this intangible glass ceiling," says Banham. "And that has to do with institutional factors."

In Minneapolis, as in other large U.S. cities, the first organized efforts to recruit black cops came in the 1970s. Before then, blacks had often been turned away or had found themselves mysteriously failing medical exams and other tests. In 1975 the MPD had just 8 officers of color on a force of 833, even though the city's minority population was increasing and both racial tensions and black-on-black crime were on the rise.

The problem was beginning to attract attention. Police hiring and disciplinary policies were being probed by the city's Civil Service Commission, the state Department of Human Rights, the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and the U.S. Treasury Department (which provided the MPD with some funding).

That September state Human Rights commissioner William L. Wilson issued a probable-cause finding against the city's Civil Service Commission. After studying police hiring practices from 1968 to 1975, he found that "discriminatory policies" had kept the number of black officers disproportionately low. City officials said they agreed with most of the report's findings and vowed to redouble their efforts to diversify the force. Since six percent of the city's population were minorities, they announced, people of color should account for the same proportion of the MPD by 1979.

It didn't happen. And because change was equally slow to occur in other parts of the city's work force, by the early Eighties city officials concluded they needed to make a more formal effort to increase minority hiring. So the Civil Service Commission instituted the system that's the subject of the present-day lawsuit--expanded certification.

With the exception of some positions governed by union contracts, the system functions pretty much the same way for all 8,000 civil-service jobs in Minneapolis. First, the city's Department of Personnel Services tests applicants for any given job category and places those who pass on a list based on their test scores.

Most jobs have traditionally been filled using a system known as the Rule of Three. Under the rule, whenever a city department has a job opening, Personnel generates an "eligible list" that is forwarded to the department head. The list typically contains the same number of applicants as job openings, plus two. If there's one opening, three names are forwarded. If there are two openings, four names are sent, and so on.

When expanded certification is used, Personnel can send a larger number of applicants for any job in which minorities are underrepresented. A list prepared for one open position may include the usual three candidates, plus up to two minorities who may have ranked lower on test scores. The department head does not have to hire the minority candidates or give them extra consideration; he or she simply picks from a larger pool of applicants.

It worked, after a fashion. According to personnel records obtained by City Pages, as of November 19 last year, 58--or 6.23 percent--of the MPD's 929 sworn officers were black. (The department also employed 32 Hispanics, 25 Asians, and 30 Native Americans, for a total minority share of 15 percent. Some 148 officers are women.) Those numbers, however, are still just barely higher than the goal the city set itself 20 years ago. By contrast, the Minneapolis Fire Department--which has been operating under a court order to diversify for more than 25 years--has ratcheted its minority employment up to twice the levels achieved in the MPD, with 13 percent of firefighters African-American.

Over the years, the changes have generated plenty of grumbling--and so has the expanded-certification system. Minority applicants say the city doesn't compile the expanded lists often enough. White cops, meanwhile, often assume that expanded certification guarantees affirmative-action applicants a job, rather than merely an interview.

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