Peoria fire, police departments struggling with minority hiring

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PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) — In the midst of giving an annual performance goals report for its minority hires, the Peoria police and fire departments are rehashing a difficult year for overall employment.

During the city council meeting Monday, Feb. 22, both departments broke down where they stand on minority hires, showcasing the declining numbers with minorities making up less than 25% of both workforces.

Assistant fire chief James Bachman presented for the fire department and said back in 2015 the department formed partnerships with Peoria Public Schools and Illinois Central College and launched other recruitment initiatives to diversify the workforce.

Bachman said they hired two African-American males, one African-American female, and one Hispanic male from their group of cadets in 2016 and 2017. He also said out of the 19 hired firefighters in 2018, three were African-American males, three were Caucasian females, and one identified as “other.”

However, he said due to budget cuts and layoffs, they lost their cadet program haven’t been bringing people on board since 2018. They’ve also slowed down their recruitment efforts, last year, due to COVID-19 and low hires.

Bachman said not only are they struggling to bring on more minorities, but they’ve been seeing an influx of resignations, nine in the past two years. He said three were African-Americans.

“In the 10 years prior to 2019, we had one resignation,” Bachman said. “Of the three African American males that we’ve lost, two of them were from the 2018 class and one was from the class before that towards the end of 2016.”

Bachman said many left for other employment opportunities because they were worried about keeping their jobs in Peoria and others didn’t feel valued.

Both departments said have problems with candidates not successfully completing their exams, with some not turning in documents and others not showing up for the tests at all.

Interim police chief Doug Theobald said they’re still continuing recruitment measures. He said with a 2% decrease in minority hiring in 2020, the department increased its efforts in 2021 with minorities making up 64% of all new hires.

City documents show 22% of the police department’s staff are minorities.

Theobald said two of the biggest factors that have recently affected their minority workforce and hiring process are retirements and people not taking the exams.

“We had a decent amount of minority applicants that actually applied. but when it came down to the process of taking the test… there were a significant amount of the minority applicants that didn’t take the test,” Theobald said. “Once they get through the door, they do quite well.”

He said they’ll continue to work on getting their applicants to take the test.

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