Thursday, June 13, 2013

BSO Diversity Study was Commissioned – and Shelved

BSO Diversity Study was Commissioned - and Shelved
by José Pérez
South Florida Times

A diversity study commissioned in 2009 by then-Sheriff Al Lamberti found multiple instances of discrimination in hiring practices, promotions, and business opportunities within the Broward Sheriff’s Office.    The 31-page report was never released to the public nor to the members of the fact-finding commission itself.    According to that study, BSO discriminated against women and minorities as outlined in 51 “facts/finding” areas.   That study also made 31 recommendations to address the problems which, according to some members of the panel, have yet to be redressed.    

The study found that “diversity and equal opportunity are not distributed evenly and equitably throughout” BSO.

The diversity study was compiled by a panel that was chaired by Dr Henry W. Mack.  According to a member of the panel, anthropologist Roland Foulkes, the Council for Diversity and Equal Opportunity was put together in an unorthodox manner.  “The Sheriff had already chosen Mack to chair” the CDEO, said Foulkes, and Mack, in turn, chose his vice-chair, Jocelyn Carter-Miller.   Foulkes said that the subchairs and bylaws for the CDEO were already decided on beforehand as well.   “It was very different how we were pulled together,” said Foulkes.

Attempts to reach Mack, Carter-Miller, and Lamberti via telephone and/or email were unsuccessful.

 What the CDEO found raises serious questions about BSO’s ability to effectively interact with and serve a county that is growing increasingly diverse in terms of both residents and tourists.   For example, the CDEO report said that BSO’s Department of Detention was the agency’s “most diverse unit” yet employees from that department were typically “considered inferior” to personnel from other departments.  The CDEO report concluded that this, in turn, impacts career advancement for many DOD employees.     

Also, minimal contracting opportunities were being made available for minority companies with BSO.  The CDEO report discovered that “the BSO Purchasing Bureau does not maintain [a minority business enterprise] database.”

Career opportunities were also found to be lacking.   Among the findings documented by the CDEO, it was pointed out that a demographic-specific recruitment plan did not exist and the ratio of minority “command level” staff was not proportionate to the rest of Broward County.

The CDEO also discovered that the “BSO did not have a definition of ‘diversity,’” said Foulkes. “We gave them one.”

Although the 2009 CDEO commission and study were projects initiated by his predecessor, the findings and recommendations contained therein have strong implications for the current BSO Sheriff.   Scott Israel, who succeeded Lamberti earlier this year, said that a more diverse and inclusive work force is “critically important to me.”  That said, the exact focus of Israel’s interest in leading an agency that “looks like Broward County” is still being developed.  BSO Senior Public Information Officer Keyla Concepción told the South Florida Times that BSO is “reviewing what was in place.”

“Everything is being carefully reviewed,” said Concepción.

Still, both Israel and Concepción were eager to point out improvements.   For example, since he was sworn into office last January, three African-Americans have been promoted and/or named to key roles in the agency.  Colonel Alvin Pollock is now in charge of all of BSO’s Department of Law Enforcement, Major David Holmes supervises patrol operations in the southern Broward, and Colonel Gary Palmer came out of an almost three year retirement to lead the Department of Detention and Community Programs.  Also, William Knowles was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel in charge of countywide services (e.g. services for neighborhoods and youth, special operations, et cetera).

Even the BSO Public Information Office is evolving.   The top two positions in that visible arm of the Sheriff’s Office are held by two women:  Concepción and PIO Manager Veda Coleman-Wright.

Israel is also keeping an eye on the sustainable side of diversity.  BSO is “making a push,” said Concepción to recruit a more diverse applicant pool for jobs in the agency.  “Positions are open.”

In hindsight, nothing ever came of the panel’s work for Lamberti in spite of the findings and a series of recommendations to address the disparities contained in each.

Ralph Rachels, President of the Liberal Black Firefighters Association, is disappointed.   “We never heard anything from that report.  I didn’t see any changes.”

Albert Jones, current Vice Mayor of Dania Beach, was a Broward County Commissioner when Lamberti convened the CDEO in 2009.  He also has unanswered questions about the report that the panel worked on.  “I never got a copy of the report so I don’t know what happened.”

Foulkes said that he “felt used.”

“I haven’t seen a whole bunch of changes.  My disappointment is that they did not follow through.”

Jones described some of the challenges the CDEO encountered while trying to put together the report.   “We were running into interference along the way,” Jones said, “because we were outsiders.”

“We were just community people, volunteers,” echoed Foulkes.  “The committee was a campaign promise. We came in, did our work, and left.”

For Rachels and others, the experience remains a major disappointment.   “That was a waste of time.”