Recruiting minorities for jobs in law enforcement and corrections remains a difficult challenge for Boone County government officials.
That fact came to light during a recent review of the county’s affirmative action plan, which identifies strategies for boosting the number of minorities on the county’s payroll. The review showed that the county has made little progress despite its efforts. Overall, minorities fill about 7.8 percent, or 30 of 386, county jobs. That’s up only slightly from the 7.6 percent, or 28 of 369 jobs, that were filled by minorities in 2005.
Those numbers appear low when compared to the population of Boone County. According to the Office of Social and Economic Data Analysis, minorities represented 15.3 percent of county residents in 2000.
But Boone County Human Resources Director Betty Dickneite said that’s not the primary concern. The affirmative action plan instead is designed to identify individual job groups that have lower than “reasonably expected” minority representation and then come up with strategies for improvement.
“We shouldn’t look at it as an overall number because there are other things that contribute to an applicant’s qualifications,” Dickneite said. “The message is that we’re open to hiring all well-qualified people, and hopefully we have a lot of minority applicants in our applicant pool.”
Law enforcement and corrections was the only job group identified as below reasonable expectations this year. Only six of 119 county employees in that field are minorities. That’s 5.04 percent.
Boone County Sheriff Dwayne Carey said law enforcement agencies in general have trouble finding applicants, not just minorities, so there are even fewer minority applicants to choose from in a diminishing applicant pool.
“Everyone has trouble finding individuals trying to get into the field,” he said.
Carey also cited competition with other agencies such as the Columbia Police Department.
“You’ll hear people talking about not making enough money,” he said. “Retirement is also at 62 with the Sheriff’s Department, and some people shy away from that, or some people don’t really feel comfortable with the fact that you do a lot of things on your own or that back-up may not be close enough.”
Columbia police Capt. Mike Martin agreed with Carey that the difficulty in filling law enforcement jobs is a national trend.
“Some of the people interested in law enforcement are going into the military because of the conflict at this time,” he said. “Also, our retirement benefits aren’t as important to some people as time off for time with family and friends. The job schedule just isn’t conducive to those things.”
The county first adopted an affirmative action plan in 1998.
“It’s a chance for us to ask ourselves if we’re achieving what we need to,” Presiding Commissioner Ken Pearson said. “According to the analysis, I think we are within reasonable (representation) range on most jobs, but that doesn’t mean we can’t work to improve our diversity,” he said.
Dickneite said the county isn’t required to have such a plan.
“We’re not trying to correct any sort of past discrimination,” she said. “We’re just doing it to be proactive, and we’ll continue working on the job groups that are underrepresented.”