Fort Smith Police Chief Nathaniel Clark took office on Jan. 9, three months after it was announced he would be filling the position vacated by former Chief Kevin Lindsey in March of 2016.
With about 10 days on the job, the city’s first African-American police chief is eager to tackle the city’s hiring problems related to police diversity, stating the city needs to “expand its base” if it hopes to close the recruiting gap.
The city has a dearth of minority representation at most levels of government with approximately 50 African-American workers out of about 900 employees, according to April 2016 numbers provided to the Fort Smith Board of Directors by city administration; but the issue is more pronounced in the police department.
For example, prior to September 2016 when the city brought on Officer Arthur Lewis, the department had hired one African-American officer since 1995 and had not promoted a black officer since 1988. The statistical breakdown — updated with September’s hire — showed the city employed two African-Americans out of around 151 sworn officers — about 1.32% compared to a citywide African-American population of 9%, according to 2010 U.S. Census Bureau numbers.
In December 2015, its then lone African-American officer, Wendall Sampson, filed suit against the department for “discrimination in employment and promotion.” In March, Chief Lindsey stepped down after he was overheard stating that the only way more minorities would be part of the police force would be for white officers “to wear black face.”
Despite the record, however, Clark insists the department’s diversity problem is not unusual, adding that it “not only applies to Fort Smith, but it also applies to departments throughout the United States.”
“To overcome that, what we do is enhance our recruitment techniques,” Clark told Talk Business & Politics. “We utilize social media. We utilize churches. We utilize IACP, PERF, NOBLE, and the media.”
The organizations Clark is referring to include the International Association of Police Chiefs (IACP); the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF); and the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives (NOBLE). But the recruitment process will not end there, he insisted.
“We go to job fairs. We go to military bases. We go to sororities. We go to fraternities. We reach out to every segment of a community, and we reach out beyond,” Clark said.
Most police departments now tackling their diversity problems are going national with their outreach, and that’s a technique Clark hopes to employ as positions become available. It’s also one Fort Smith City Administrator Carl Geffken has embraced since accepting the city government’s top job in May. Geffken used national recruiter Strategic Government Resources (SGR) to fill police and human resources positions and is in the process of wrapping up the search for a Utilities Director with the firm.
As a beneficiary of national outreach, Clark believes he can get the police department closer to a fair representation of the city’s demographics.
“What I’ve found in talking to my recruiter the other day is that we are recruiting around a certain perimeter. We’re not recruiting around the country, and that’s what we’ve got to do. We’ve got to expand our base. We have an opportunity to grow and to enhance here, and we can do it. It’s going to happen,” Clark said.