Back in December of 1976, the police force of Cedar Rapids, Iowa employed 171 people. As pointed out by Luther Trent during a city council meeting, however, there were zero black employees among that number (and only two had been employed by the police force in the last 50 years). He felt that the mayor and city council should take any means necessary to correct this, including a more positive recruiting effort. The article below describes the issue of minority employment in Cedar Rapids.
Three months later, in late March 1977, the police department hired ten new employees. Unfortunately for Trent and the work he had been doing to get a test that qualified minorities for police work, all ten of those new employees were white. Four more positions on the force were still available, but Safety Commissioner, Ed Colton, said that he expected them to be filled by officer candidates chosen from the same list as the previous ten, a list that included no minority candidates whatsoever.
To Trent’s credit, Colton did state a week later that he planned to implement a new police hiring policy immediately. He also said that he was planning a civil service examination to create a new list of qualified applicants in May.
Unfortunately, two days later, the details of the exam were questioned because people thought the written exam had nothing to do with the job itself and there were stricter guidelines for blacks than whites. The exam was moved to July by the chairman of the civil service commission to give time to address this concern and to lessen current demands on the police force regarding training schools and test conduction (the ten new officers that had been hired recently were likely still in training at the time).
Two black applicants made it through the written exam in June. However, this was for an aide program, not an officer one. The unemployment requirement and base pay of $6,000 per year (not even half of what a factory worker usually got in those days, and about 60% of the base pay for a rookie officer) still didn’t help with making the police force any more minority-friendly. The program was cited by some as an attempt to silence criticism of racism without actually doing anything to address the problems and imbalances. Nonetheless, Luther Trent continued to tell people to do further recruiting so there would be more black applicants the next time new officer applications came around.
A couple days later, the topic of who should be interviewed for the position of police chief came up. Luther Trent mentioned that the candidates’ backgrounds in race relations should be taken into consideration. He was not only concerned with getting blacks on the police force, but he also wanted them to stay there. He said he knew of a black former officer who had been “harassed off the job” and that this experience made it more difficult for the black officer application effort.
The city did step up its recruitment efforts in the months that followed, including a recruiting trip from Chicago that left Luther Trent quite pleased. He said that he would delay mentioning how many people were recruited because the point was not about numbers, but rather that the city was finally making a definite effort to recruit minorities into the police force.