October 3, 2017

Black Detectives Sue NYPD, Claiming Bias Infected Its Promotion Process

Say White Supervisors Find Ways to Bypass Them

LONG WAIT FOR PROMOTION: Retired Dets. Roland Stephens, left, and Jon McCollum at a press conference announcing their lawsuit charging that the NYPD Intelligence Bureau discriminated against black Detectives on grade promotions. ‘I would put my record up against anyone else’s,’ Mr. McCollum said. ‘It just makes you feel very sad, you do your best and you’re not acknowledged,’ Mr. Stephens said.

“I did everything I could to get promoted. I watched countless white Detectives from my class move up in rank, but not me. Multiple supervisors told me if I were white I would have been promoted.”

The speaker was retired Det. Jon McCollum, one of three plaintiffs in a class-action suit charging that the NYPD Intelligence Bureau discriminated against black Detectives in the grade-promotion process. He spoke at a press conference Sept. 25 sponsored by their lawyers, the New York Civil Liberties Union and the firm Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady.

‘Secretive Policy’

“For well over a decade, the NYPD Intelligence Division has implemented a secretive and unstructured promotions policy, administered by white supervisors who refuse to promote deserving African-American Detectives,” according to the suit, which was filed in Manhattan Federal Court on the day of the press conference.

“As a result of these policies…African-American Detectives have been repeatedly denied well-deserved promotions—even when recommended by their direct supervisor—without explanation, even while less-qualified white Detectives have been promoted above them.”

“I would put my record up against anybody else’s,” Mr. McCollum said. “I worked with a lot of great people. We did a lot of great things.”

“Minority communities have for decades distrusted the NYPD, and for good reason,” said Elizabeth Saylor, the law-firm partner who is lead counsel for the Detectives. “Pervasive discrimination against black Detectives only deepens that distrust. The NYPD’s discriminatory culture needs to change.”

‘Racism Worst There’

She was asked whether the pattern of discrimination alleged in the Intelligence Bureau extends to the Detective Bureau and other units. “There’s racism within all of the NYPD, but what I found was that racism in the Intelligence Division was that much worse,” Ms. Saylor replied.

She noted that the division has a lower percentage of black officers than the department as a whole and that until recently the entire command structure above the rank of Sergeant was white. The white bosses “promote their friends,” she said.

The grade-promotion process for Detectives has always been mysterious. It is an article of faith in the NYPD that excellent investigators are often overlooked in favor of those who do not investigate anything but instead handle administrative work in close proximity to Chiefs.

Detectives start at Third Grade, then may move to Second Grade, at pay equivalent to that of a Sergeant, and then to First Grade, at Lieutenant’s pay. “Third-Grade Detectives make approximately $20,000 less per year than Second-Grade Detectives and approximately $30,000 a year less than First-Grade Detectives,” according to the suit.

EEOC: Unequal Treatment

In 2011, the three Detectives filed a discrimination complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. When the commission issued a determination in March 2016, it agreed, “Black Detectives do not receive equal treatment in promotion.”

The NYPD’s “defense, that the promotion system is fair and inclusive and that any shortfall in the black participation rate is attributable to unspecified individual circumstances, does not withstand scrutiny,” according to the EEOC decision. “In fact, [the department’s] wholly subjective and secret process operates without any structured guidelines.”

The U.S. Department of Justice can file suit to enforce EEOC decisions. But in this case DOJ, which under President Trump has pulled back from dealing with problematic practices by local police departments, has declined to do so, Ms. Saylor said.

NYPD Assistant Commissioner Peter Donald responded with a statement: “We have been aware of these allegations for some time. The allegations are not new, however, and were first made several years ago to the EEOC by three former Detectives from the Intelligence Bureau. Following the EEOC’s investigation, the NYPD presented information on promotions and diversity within the Intelligence Bureau to the Department of Justice. After review of this, DOJ declined to pursue the case.”

‘Blacks Promoted Faster’

His statement continued, “A review of a recent 10-year period, which includes the timeframe of this litigation, shows that black Third-Grade Detectives within the Intelligence Bureau were promoted at a faster pace than their colleagues.”

An analysis by the EEOC found differently, stating, “In a seven-year period about 100 Detective promotions occurred within Intel, roughly three-quarters of which were from Detective 3 to Detective 2. Analysis and comparison of the promotees’ time in grade up to their promotions reveals that blacks as a group served as Detective 3 nearly two years longer than whites (roughly seven years for whites vs. nine years for blacks). Separate analyses year by year confirm these differences.”

All three Detectives were promoted after filing the EEOC complaint.

“Detective McCollum’s white colleagues promoted along with him averaged approximately five years before their promotion,” according to the suit. “African-American colleagues that were promoted at the same time have averaged nearly 10 years, and Detective McCollum waited 16 years.”

A second plaintiff, Det. Roland Stephens, was promoted to Second Grade in 2013, nearly 14 years after his promotion to Detective Third Grade. “The white colleagues promoted along with Detective Stephens averaged about six years before promotion, while he and his African-American colleagues averaged 12 years,” the suit said.

A ‘Cynical’ Upgrade

The third plaintiff was Sara Coleman, widow of Det. Theodore Coleman, who was one of the parties to the EEOC complaint. After nearly a decade as a Third Grade Detective and months away from his retirement, he was moved up to Second Grade.

“Detective Coleman was one of the last Detectives in his entering Intelligence Division class to be promoted,” according to the suit. “Detective Coleman understood, however, that his promotion was not the result of his excellent evaluations given that just six months earlier, he had been denied a promotion despite his supervisor’s recommendation.

“Rather, he understood that his long-delayed promotion was a cynical attempt by the NYPD to appease all African-American Detectives and stave off any further challenges to the persistent racial inequalities within the Intelligence Division.”

The suit charges that Chief of Intelligence Thomas Galati was informed by a union representative that Mr. McCollum had complained of discrimination.

‘Give Them One Guy’

The representative said that “in response [Mr. Galati] had decided to ‘give them one guy,’” according to the suit. “Detective Coleman understood this to mean that in response to the complaint about discrimination, the NYPD had picked one African-American to promote. Detective Coleman was informed that he would be the ‘one guy’ who would be promoted.” And he was.

Mr. Stephens initially declined to speak, giving in only after prodding by reporters. “I enjoy helping people and this job offered me the opportunity to do that,” he said. “I have no regrets about taking the job. It’s just very sad, you do your best and you’re not acknowledged. It makes you feel unappreciated, but you still have to do your job.”