The Salt Lake City Civil Service Commission scheduled a hearing next month to hear testimony on complaints from minority police officers who say opportunities for promotion for blacks and Hispanics are "severely limited."
Minority officers believe the department is promoting "Anglo women" as minorities to meet federal hiring standards and not promoting other minorities, attorney Steven Payton told the commission last week."The general perception is that the department is pushing women further than other minorities," said Payton, who said he represents several unnamed minority police officers.
The officers in part were reacting to the promotion of the first female Salt Lake police officer to a captain's position last November, Payton said.
"I think he's wrong," said Salt Lake Police Col. G. E. Johnson. "Those women who have been promoted have gotten there on their own; it's not something we've done."
Furthermore, promotions are based solely on test scores and performance quality, not on representation of a racial group, Johnson said. "Everybody here has an opportunity to move."
Of about 365 officers, seven are black and 23 are Hispanic, Payton said. No Hispanics have been promoted from officer to sergeant in three years, although several have passed exams necessary for promotion, he said.
"Those are awfully small numbers to say there is a trend," said Commission Chairwoman Pat Freston. She requested more data before the commission discusses the issue further.
No police department official was at the meeting. Freston scheduled a February meeting to hear the department's response to the allegations.
Payton said none of the officers complaining of promotion inequities are considering suing the department. "We just want to sensitize people to the frustrations of minority officers," he said.
City Personnel Services Director Irene Rees said the concern of the officers was "a legitimate perception." But Assistant City Attorney Frank Nakamura said, "I think we have to explore this `perception' and what it is grounded on."
"It oftentimes is the case in legal matters," Payton wrote in a Nov. 23 letter to the commission, "that `perception' is much more important than reality, since the department must not only deal with the factual realities but the community perception as well."
Johnson agreed that even "perception" of inequities at the department are problematic but said "there's no way of knowing" how accurate the perceptions are with respect to reality.
In a related matter, the commission scheduled an executive session to hear testimony from a Hispanic Salt Lake firefighter who contends he is being passed over for promotion to lieutenant, said L. Zane Gill, attorney for the firefighter.
The firefighter, on the list for promotion since Sept. 28, hasn't been promoted by the fire department for "creative reasons," despite several opportunities for promotion, Gill said.
If the firefighter isn't promoted by Jan. 22, he will be dropped from the promotion list, Gill said.