Over the last year and a half, the NYPD has marginally increased Black, Hispanic and Asian representation in its topmost ranks, yet has witnessed a slide in the number of Black officers on the street, an analysis by THE CITY found.
Three out of four police officials with a rank above captain are white, a modest decrease from the 78.5% in January 2019, but still a retro phenomenon in a city that is now only 32.5% “non-Hispanic white,” according to Census numbers.
As of the end of May, 315 of 419 of police leaders above the rank of captain were white, including two of the top three cops at One Police Plaza: Chief of Department Terence Monahan and Police Commissioner Dermot Shea. The third, First Deputy Commissioner Benjamin Tucker, is Black.
The number of whites holding a rank above captain fell from 334 to 315 between January 2019 and May 31. Meanwhile, the number of Blacks above captain rose from 42 to 49, Hispanics from 43 to 46 and Asians from six to nine.
On Wednesday Shea shuffled the upper decks, performing what the department’s Twitter feed dubbed a “‘clean slate’ for change.”
He promoted a borough commander, Jeffrey Maddrey, who is Black, to replace Nilda Irizarry Hoffman, who is Hispanic, as head of community affairs. Hoffman was moved over to replace the white man in charge of the transportation unit, William Morris, who passed away recently. Maddrey was replaced by head of the Special Victims unit, Judith Harrison, who is Black. Her position has yet to be filled.
In the lower ranks, it’s a very different story for the Black men and women who wear the badge at a time when law enforcement in New York and beyond is under renewed scrutiny amid weeks of protests and several high-profile police killings around the country.
In the 1990s, the NYPD launched an aggressive recruitment effort that pushed the number of Black patrol officers up by a third, from 13% of the force in 1988 to 18% of the department by 2008, according to an analysis of three decades of internal NYPD data obtained by THE CITY.
But that analysis makes clear that over the last 12 years, the number of Black street cops has dropped, despite much talk about recruiting young people of color.
The number of Black patrol officers decreased from a high of 4,162 in 2008 to 3,652 as of May 31, THE CITY’s analysis found. Black officers now make up 15.5% of the cops on the street.
“I didn’t realize it had dropped down that much,” Public Advocate Jumaane Williams said Friday when informed of THE CITY’s analysis. “I didn’t realize it had started to decline. And given that a lot of these issues, it’s disappointing.
“I do want to be clear: Diversity itself doesn’t solve all the problems, but it is something that we have to consider to have a department that reflects the community,” he added.
Meanwhile, both the numbers and percentage of Hispanic and Asian patrol officers have risen over the last 20 years.
The ranks of Hispanic officers more than doubled from 3,082 in 1988 to 7,340 as of May 31. That increases Hispanic representation from 13% in 1988 to 31% this year. The number of Asian officers jumped from 168 in 1988 to 2,310 as of May 31, going from less than 1% in 1988 to 10% today.
In touting the make-up of its force, the NYPD routinely releases figures that combine lower and upper ranks. That allows the department to say the majority of uniformed staff are Black, Hispanic or Asian.
Mayor Bill de Blasio repeated that statistic Monday in discussing the decision to postpone bringing in a new class of recruits to the Police Academy due to the pandemic, stating, “Today’s NYPD is majority people of color.”
NYPD ‘Carries a Stigma’
But when the numbers are broken down by rank, a very different picture emerges.
“Even if there is a preponderance of other ethnicities and gender available, it’s still white males that get promoted the most,” Williams said. “They have a long way to go in terms of addressing racial disparity.”
The NYPD’s predominantly white leadership dates back decades. De Blasio has appointed white police commissioners — Bill Bratton, James O’Neill and Dermot Shea — twice passing over the top Black chief in the department,Tucker.
And disparities persist nearly 40 years after the NYPD settled suits filed by Black and Hispanic police fraternal groups alleging the civil service system employed by the department discriminated against non-whites.
The NYPD agreed to change its practices, aiming for 30% representation of Black and Hispanic personnel on the force. The federal judge who approved the deal in November 1981, Robert Carter, hoped the agreement would assure “there will be more female, Black and Hispanic police officers and sergeants on the NYC police force than before.”
Recruiting within the Black community has been difficult for the last several years, and now — with the police brutality protests convulsing the city over the last month — it’s even tougher, said Detective Felicia Richards, president of the NYPD Guardians Association, a fraternal group of Black officers.
“You have to sell it. The Police Department carries a stigma,” she told THE CITY, noting that some Black officers have recently been singled out by protesters and called “traitor.”
“Right now it’s a really hard time,” she said. “Right now we’re getting battered and the worst of it is for officers of color. Not just black, also Hispanic.”
Richards doesn’t believe real progress can happen without the participation of Black cops.
“You want to make a change in the way your communities are seen economically, you have to be in the water,” she said. “We’re in the water.”
‘Committed to Diversity’
The department has, in fact, become less white overall, particularly in the lower ranks. In 1988, whites made up 73% of the patrol officers. They now make up 43%.
That is due to an effort to transform the makeup of the entire department by starting at the entry-level job of patrol officer.
Al Baker, an NYPD spokesperson, said that the department wants to promote diversity, in part to improve relations across a spectrum of communities.
“The NYPD is committed to diversity and believes that to succeed in policing, the Police Department needs officers to be diverse and representative of the people and neighborhoods they serve,” Baker said. “The more diverse our officers, the better able they will be to connect to the needs and concerns of the populations they serve in all of our city’s neighborhoods.
“The more effective they will be at gleaning the kind of tips — and developing the kind of intelligence — that leads to effective and precise crime fighting,” he added.
He did not respond to THE CITY’s questions about the 12-year decline in Black patrol officers. But did describe several factors that he said have restricted the department’s ability to move a fairly diverse pool of patrol officers to the NYPD’s top tiers.
First, civil service rules eliminate discretion in promotions through the rank of captain, he noted.
“Given the civil service advancement system – whereby every rank up to captain is determined by a civil service exam – changing the upper ranks to reflect the lower ranks doesn’t happen overnight,” Baker said.
Second, there’s less turnover at the top, and in 2017 and 2018, there were only a limited number of retirements from the ranks above captain.
“There is a churn at the bottom: People are moving in and out relatively rapidly while at the top, our skilled, most senior uniformed leaders stay in service longer,” he said. “That adds to the divide that can take generations to bridge.”