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Report explores discrimination at Riverdale Police Department

By Billy Corriher

A report prepared by the Department of Justice showed that many Riverdale police officers believe they are victims of favoritism and unequal treatment, and half the officers think race is an issue in the police department.

Ernest Jones of the Department of Justice prepared the report after interviewing city employees. Almost one third of the employees in the police department rated their top supervisor, Chief Mike Edwards, as unsatisfactory or poor on fairness in treatment of employees.

But Edwards said some officers weren't clear on Jones' question, and he said it's impossible to run the department without offending some of his employees.

"If I get a 70 percent approval rating, I think that's pretty good," he said. "I'm not here to make 100 percent of the police department happy."

In the report, Jones suggests more training for officers and a review of existing policies to reduce the impression of a "good ol' boy system" within the department.

Jones suggests ensuring consistency and uniformity for assignments, promotions and scheduling to eliminate the appearance of favoritism. Jones also recommends suspending disciplinary actions until a new policy can be developed, but City Manager Billy Beckett said such a suspension is not feasible.

Beckett said it is "not practical and perhaps illegal in some cases" to suspend all disciplinary action. Though the city is not required to follow up on Jones' recommendations, Beckett agreed with the suggestion of diversity training for officers.

Edwards also said further training is warranted.

"We do need to systematically retrain our officers in things like culture and diversity," he said. "The only way we're going to overcome the perception (of discrimination) is to communicate."

Edwards also said the complaints of favoritism in promotions and disciplinary procedures are unfounded.

When he has to take disciplinary action against an officer, Edwards said he doesn't talk about the case to other officers, which leads to speculation and rumors about how officers are reprimanded.

Edwards also said the procedure for promotions is objective. Officers applying for a promotion take a test and are reviewed by an outside assessment center, he said, and the points are added up to determine who gets the promotion.

Another problem that prompted the report was the public's perception of the department, and the report suggests ways to improve community relations, which Edwards said he has already started working on.

The report was requested by the city after allegations of racial discrimination within the police department surfaced. Two-thirds of Riverdale's 12,478 residents are black, according to 2000 census data. Of the department's 46 officers, 12 are black, Edwards said.

Mayor Phaedra Graham, who campaigned last fall on improving community relations at the police department, said she had not had time to review the document yet, but she said the mayor and city council will consider the documents' recommendations.