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Retired Officer Says More Diversity Needed

Retired Capitol Police Lt. Sharon Blackmon-Malloy sat quietly for more than two hours Tuesday before she was called to testify about diversity in the department.

When she finally got her opportunity to speak, she made herself heard, telling Members that little significant progress has been made to bring minorities and women into the upper ranks of the force.

“The world is always watching the U.S. Capitol, because it should be the symbol of justice,” Blackmon-Malloy said. “But it’s not.”

Fighting to bring more diversity to the force has been an ongoing battle for the 25-year police veteran, who first formed the U.S. Capitol Black Police Association in 1990. She’s also the lead plaintiff in a discrimination lawsuit against the department, which remains tied up in district court.

“Other people are going through a lot more than I am because they have a fear of coming froward,” Blackmon-Malloy said after the hearing, sponsored by the Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on the Federal Workforce, Postal Service and District of Columbia. “I’m here to see the cause through.”

In separate testimony, Assistant Capitol Police Chief Daniel Nichols maintained the department has made significant progress over the past several years in bringing minorities and women up into its ranks.

Among sworn officers, nearly 35 percent of the force is made up of minorities, Nichols said, pointing to data provided by the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Women and minorities hold 43 percent of senior positions, Nichols said.

But Blackmon-Malloy argued that those statistics don’t paint an accurate picture of what’s really going on in the department. According to separate federal statistics, 29 percent of the force was black in 1993 — by September 2006, it was the same percentage, she testified.

In addition, she said, there has been no progress made in bringing minorities and women into the upper ranks. For example, no black woman has ever served in the rank of captain or above, she said.

“In fact, it took 176 years for an African-American woman to be promoted to the rank of lieutenant, which occurred in November 2004,” she said in prepared testimony before the subcommittee. “I hope that it will not take another 176 years for an African-American woman to achieve the rank of captain.”

There are challenges to increasing diversity in the upper ranks, Nichols said. For one, women did not even join the force as sworn officers until about 30 years ago, which limits the talent pool available to bring women into senior spots.

And there are other difficulties. The department does not hire supervisory or managerial sworn employees from outside groups, choosing instead to reward career Capitol Police officers for their service, Nichols said.

“Our succession planning and efforts to enhance the diversity of the pool of sworn employees must be concentrated on recruitment efforts for entry-level positions,” he testified.

Then, the force has to make sure it keeps those workers, Nichols added.

But the department is working actively to increase diversity, he said. Recruiters already actively bring in applicants from the heavily diverse Washington, D.C., area, and also travel nationwide to bring in minority candidates, Nichols said.

Officials also are developing a strategic human capital plan that includes the development of a department work force and succession plan — which include diversity efforts, Nichols said.

“We believe we have been successful to date, but clearly we can strive for continued growth,” he added.

Blackmon-Malloy said some improvements have been made. Former Police Chief Terrance Gainer — now the Senate Sergeant-at-Arms — had an open-door policy that allowed minority and female officers to address their concerns, for example.

But further steps must be taken to make sure that progress continues, Blackmon-Malloy added.

“It’s my hope that there will be a positive outcome,” she said. “It’s embarrassing to have to come here to testify in 2007 because your workplace is not diverse.”