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Issues in Diversity – Race and Rewards At The Harlem Police Department

Off-duty police officer Omar J. Edwards was accidentally shot and killed by a fellow officer on May 28, 2009. Edwards was chasing a suspected car thief in East Harlem, New York and had drawn his gun when the incident occurred. While accidents such as this are unfortunate, they are not unusual, especially in the line of police work. This particular accident, however, would affect rank-and-file minority police officers in a very significant way. After the accident, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly vowed to increase the number of minority officers in top-level Harlem police department positions. By all accounts, Commissioner Kelly is “a fair-minded leader of a hierarchical organization,” so why the emphasis on promoting minority officers, and why now?

For one thing, the off-duty police officer was black and the shooter was white. This fact “resurrected the volatile cross section of race, politics, and the use of deadly force by police officers.” Conventional wisdom suggests that public servants should represent the community in which they serve so that they might have a better understanding of the residents and vice versa. While the number of blacks and Hispanics at the rank of captain or higher has risen significantly since 2001, whites make up the majority of the Harlem Police department’s executive corps.

Harlem Police department’s reward system operates in almost the same way as it does in all police departments. Promotion of rank-and-file officers to captain depends on their performance in the civil service exams. Promotions above the captain rank are discretionary. While Commissioner Kelly admits that minority officers have enjoyed a quicker promotion than white officers of the same rank, Roy Richter, the president of the Captain’s Endowment Association, points out that “[T]his police commissioner rewards performance regardless of race or gender.”

1.        How will commissioner Kelly’s vow to increase minority representation in the top command affect the rank-and-file officers?

2.        Should service organization managers consider their “market” when promoting employees to higher levels? Why or why not?

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