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NYPD Uses NFL Playbook to Tackle Upper Ranks Diversity Problem

Former NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill (l.) looks on as Mayor Bill de Blasio announces Dermot Shea (c.) will be new head of NYPD. Nov. 4, 2019.
Dermot Shea speaks at City Hall after Mayor Bill de Blasio announces he will be the next NYPD commissioner, replacing James O’Neill (left).
Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office

The de Blasio administration is taking a cue from the National Football League by soon requiring Police Department brass to interview at least one candidate from an “underrepresented” race for any open spot above captain.

Mayor Bill de Blasio Wednesday signed an executive order that mimics the NFL’s Rooney Rule, which was first adopted in 2003. The rule, named after the late former Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney, requires teams to interview at least two candidates of color for a head coaching position and several other top spots.

“We want to bring that approach here to the NYPD,” de Blasio told reporters during his daily news conference.

THE CITY reported last summer that 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 32.5% “non-Hispanic white,” according to Census numbers.

Under the new rule, before the NYPD makes any discretionary promotion for a senior role, department leadership must conduct a “meaningful interview” of at least one person “who is a race that is underrepresented in senior positions.”

The new regulation, which goes into effect next week, covers vacancies of precinct commanders and any spot above the rank of captain, according to the executive order.

Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams served as an NYPD officer.
Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams served as an NYPD officer.
Screengrab/Brooklyn Borough President Eric L. Adams/YouTube

Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, a former NYPD captain and longtime critic of the department, called the move a “meaningful step,” but cautioned “it does not go nearly far enough.”

“Concrete reforms should be prioritized over symbolic appearances, where worthy candidates merely get a ‘look,’” said Adams, who is running for mayor.

Another frequent NYPD critic expressed similar sentiments.

“Department diversity won’t singlehandedly lead to an NYPD that safely meets the needs of our communities,” said Christopher Dunn, legal director for the New York Civil Liberties Union. “But it can play an important part alongside public accountability and a consistently enforced discipline policy.”

A History of White in Blue

The NYPD has long had a predominantly white male leadership.

Two Black men have held the top job: Benjamin Ward, who served as police commissioner under Mayor Ed Koch, and Lee Brown, who was tapped for the post by Mayor David Dinkins. It’s been nearly 30 years since Brown left the NYPD.

De Blasio has hired three white men — Bill Bratton, James O’Neill and Dermot Shea — to run the NYPD since he took office in 2014. He twice passed over the top Black official in the department, First Deputy Commissioner Benjamin Tucker.

NYPD First Deputy Commissioner Benjamin Tucker
NYPD First Deputy Commissioner Benjamin Tucker, Feb. 1, 2019.
Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

Shea recently appointed Rodney Harrison, who is Black, to replace Terance Monahan, who is white, as chief of department. Shea also tapped Juanita Holmes, who is Black, as the first woman to serve as chief of patrol.

The numbers and share of Hispanic and Asian patrol officers have risen over the last two decades, while the percentage of Black cops on the street has dropped in recent years, as THE CITY reported in June. Overall, a majority of the NYPD’s uniformed staff is Black, Hispanic or Asian.

The NYPD came under heavy criticism for its handling of the racial justice protests that spread through the city last year after the police killings of George Floyd and other Black Americans across the country.

De Blasio apologized after a city Department of Investigation report found that an under-prepared NYPD overreacted, using excessive force against protesters in multiple instances.

The demonstrations aput a spotlight on the imbalance in the Police Department’s racial makeup.

‘More to Do’

The NFL, meanwhile, has also struggled for years to diversify its upper ranks and some have criticized the Rooney Rule as not being effective enough.

During the latest round of hiring, only two people of color — the New York Jets Robert Saleh and the Houston Texans’ David Culley — were tapped to take over for the seven open head coaching positions.

Nearly 70% of players are people of color.

“They’re not the outcomes we wanted, and we’re committed more than ever to make sure we do that. But we want it to be a natural process,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell told reporters before the Super Bowl.

In 2009, the NFL expanded its rule from head coaches to general managers and has since widened it to include other top spots. Since that time, the number of minorities in those ranks has increased.

Critics have long argued that teams frequently do not give serious consideration to the minority candidates who are interviewed.

The league last year considered a proposal to boost the draft position of teams that create management opportunities for minorities. The plan was nixed but team owners now have to interview two candidates of color for every open coaching position.

On Wednesday, de Blasio hailed the Rooney Rule and said he may expand its use to other agencies.

“That approach in professional sports has proven to be effective,” he said. “There’s always more to do, but it’s really helped.”

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