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BPD revives cadet program to counter mass retirement of black officers

Jule Pattison-Gordon

As hundreds of police officers face retirement, the numbers of black members of the BPD will sharply decline. The current level of black officers roughly represents the city percentage, but many are aging out, and traditionally, incoming recruit classes are overwhelmingly white.

In large measure that is why the BPD has revived its cadet program, suspended in 2009 due to budgetary issues.

The cadet program features apprenticeships and seeks to pave the way for entrance into positions throughout the force. It emphasizes recruitment of people of color.

Candidates for the program must be between ages 18-24, reside in Boston, have maintained a Boston residency for the past five years, hold a valid Massachusetts driver’s license and pass an entry exam slated for Saturday, November 14.

Minorities retire

Currently, blacks make up 22.7 percent of BPD’s total personnel, if civilian workers such as traffic supervisors are included, and Hispanics constitute 9 percent. By comparison, Boston’s population is 24.4 percent black and 17.5 percent Hispanic or Latino, according to the United States Census Bureau.

Officers are required to retire at age 65. A workforce report released by the BPD in April estimates that 25 percent of its current force will be at or near retirement age within the next five years.

Opening the pipeline

To combat the loss of older officers and increase minority recruitment, Mayor Martin Walsh and Commissioner William Evans have reinstated the cadet program.

Normally, those interested in police roles apply by taking a civil service exam. The cadet program provides earlier access to opportunity, offering years of training and introduction to the force before an exam is scheduled.

“The cadet program will be an opportunity to greatly increase diversity on the Boston police force,” said City Councilor Tito Jackson, “I know it will help to increase the numbers [of minorities] that are coming in, because the classes I have seen typically only have a couple folks of color.”

The two-year program is a full-time, paid apprenticeship that introduces cadets to various police roles based at headquarters, district stations and specialized units. Its substantive focus includes clerical and administrative work, data entry and traffic duty. Cadets get a feel for the job — and see if they find it a good fit — while experienced officers are able to spend more time out on the street because some tasks are delegated, such as answering phones and serving at front desks, said Lieutenant Detective Mike McCarthy, BPD director of Media Relations.

Once cadets graduate, those who wish to join the force as police officers take the civil service exam. When BPD selects new recruits, cadets get preference: One-third of each new recruit class can comprise cadets, McCarthy said.

He also noted that the program allows Commissioner Evans to increase diversity among new members of the department, where the civil service exam might be a barrier.

“[The cadet program] is a great way for the BPD to increase diversity at the lower entry level ranks which is where we need it the most.” said McCarthy. “The entry level is where the commissioner has the least amount of control over whom he can and can’t hire because of the civil service [exam].”

McCarthy said the department leafleted high schools and distributed flyers to guidance counselors, as well as engaged with community meetings, media, clergy and social media to get the word out across the city about cadet participation.

Applications for the exam were due November 1. The November 14 exam will be held at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center.

Upcoming cadet class

Cadet program applicants must succeed a pass-fail test that measures overall abilities in areas such as math and English, as opposed to specific police knowledge, said McCarthy.

By last Thursday, approximately 375 people had applied to take the exam, said McCarthy and about 70 percent of them were people of color. He anticipates a high pass rate.

However budget limitations mean not all qualified applicants will be admitted and not all qualified graduates may be able to serve. The cadet program can admit only 40 people. On average, McCarthy said, funding underwrites the admission of only 40-50 recruits each year.

Racial and gender diversity also will be a factor in determining which qualified candidates are selected for the cadet program, he said. Eventually, the department will seek to admit everyone who passes the test but does not receive a seat this time around, presuming that they remain within the eligible age group.

“It’s our anticipation that we’ll get through everybody that’s eligible provided that we can hire additional cadets after the initial 40 [then] we’ll use the candidates that are on that list,” McCarthy said.

New residency requirement

There is one major difference between this cadet program and the one under Mayor Thomas Menino: candidates now will be required to have lived in Boston for five years, rather than one.

This, McCarthy said, will better ensure the jobs actually go to residents of the communities from which they are trying to recruit.