Friday, February 6, 2015

Holland: "Institutional change" needed in public safety recruiting, hiring


KANSAS CITY, KAN. ---- For nearly two hours on Thursday evening, residents of Wyandotte County voiced their own concerns about public safety hiring and the diversity levels represented in Wyandotte County.

The Unified Government's Board of Commissioners listened to the comments in the latest step of the county's effort to improve diversity among its public safety units.

The topic is not exactly new, as the topic is one Unified Government Mayor/CEO Mark Holland has spearheaded for over a year after witnessing a new class of Kansas City, Kan., firefighters graduating without one black resident.

"When I think all of  of our hiring, both public safety and non-public safety, I expect our community's diversity to be reflected," Holland said. "I expect Kansas City, Kan., will set a national standard - a national model that other communities will want to emulate."

According to information from the Unified Government, 55 percent of Wyandotte County's population is either black or Hispanic. Only 23 percent of the police department is black or Hispanic, while 13 percent of firefighters are non-white.

Holland was quick, however, to make note that the disparity does not mean current staff members are doing a bad job.

"This process is not an indictment on the men and women who work hard every day," Holland said.

While debate and discuss on this topic began early in 2014, the events of Ferguson, Mo., put the topic on the immediate front-burner.

"Ferguson, Mo., is when you look at red flags for 20 years and don't do anything," Holland said. "It did not happen overnight."

U.S. Attorney Barry Grissom said the Unified Government was correct in bringing this issue up.

"What happens in Ferguson is what happens when you are not pro-active," Grissom said. "I want to applaud the efforts of the mayor. It's incredibly exciting for the city and this is something that will only add to this community."

During the public commenting portion of the event, which included comments from former black firefighters in KCK, several residents expressed frustration about the hiring process and said changes were needed.

Students from Bishop Ward High School and Wyandotte High School also encouraged commissioners to create more opportunities for Wyandotte County's younger residents.

Following those comments, Holland said any change to the process must be an "institutional" one.

"We need a cultural institutional change that will last for generations," Holland said. "We have to have a system and that system has to be carried forward by the people of this community. It cannot be the agenda of one or two people. It has to be part of the community."