Thursday, June 22, 2006

Editorial praises Chris Miller's work

The following editorial about Chris Miller’s excellent work in coordinating the city’s minority recruitment effort appeared in the June 14, 2006 edition of The State Journal-Register.

Recruiting efforts paying off for city

THE PROBLEM of low minority numbers in the Springfield Police Department is far from solved, but news this week is good – very good, in fact.
We aren’t hesitant to offer criticism – the constructive kind, we hope – when we believe Mayor Tim Davlin is missing the mark. It is only fair that we offer kudos when he hits the bull’s eye as he did this week in announcing that the percentage of minority applicants who took the police officer exam this past weekend was over 21 percent – that compares to just 9.7 percent who took the test in 2005.

DAVLIN HAS graciously given much of the credit for the improved numbers to the work of Chris Miller, a University of Illinois at Springfield professor who was hired by the city three months ago to coordinate the city’s minority recruiting effort.
Miller is quick to deflect much of the credit back to Davlin, saying the mayor is serious about minority recruiting and is committed to doing the job right.
“We still have work to do. We’re moving into the realm of fire and rescue as well. But obviously we’re really pleased with our initial efforts,” said Miller. “I think when you talk about success, it absolutely stems from leadership. And I think the leadership of the city has been stellar in this situation.”
While the city entered into an agreement with UIS just three months ago, Miller notes that the university had been courting the city in hopes of assisting with the recruitment efforts for several months prior. To Davlin’s credit, he recognized the merits of Miller’s proposal and by all accounts has made sure the city bought into the plan.

MUCH OF WHAT Miller has done is common sense. Yet it is common sense that was too often ignored in the past. The city/UIS recruiting team has been aggressive in visiting career fairs both locally and across the Midwest. It has revamped the city’s marketing strategy to more effectively reach minority candidates – buying billboards on the city’s east side, advertising in two newspapers with high minority readership and intensively reaching out to minorities who showed an interest in becoming Springfield cops.
Miller’s group built an impressive database of 189 minorities interested in the police department. Every one of those potential applicants was contacted 15 times prior to the test this past Sunday to make sure they knew the city was truly interested in them as potential employees. Miller said contacts were made by letter (including one from the acting police chief), by phone and, of course, by e-mail. Intense? Yes. Effective? Definitely. Fifty-eight minorities showed up to take the test.
A $25 application fee also was dropped (most cities don’t charge to take a test, putting Springfield at a disadvantage). The test was given in both Springfield and at Malcolm X College in Chicago. And numerous practice sessions were held to help prepare the candidates.

THIS ALL SPEAKS of a city that is truly interested in creating a more diverse police department. But as Miller said, more work needs to be done. And, of course, the test takers must also be able to translate into actual employees.
Ward 2 Ald. Frank McNeil hopes to meet with the mayor this week to again push an initiative that could help in that regard. McNeil would like to see the city go to a pass/fail system for the exam. “It still is the personality, the interaction with people. There’s a whole lot that goes into being a good police officer other than just a score on a damn test,” said McNeil.
It’s a controversial idea, but one worth considering. We’ll discuss why soon.

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