First responders open up about need for more diversity in the workplace

Diversity conference coming to Charlotte

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - Charlotte Fire Department (CFD), Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO), MEDIC, and Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department (CMPD) are coming together to host a first of its kind diversity, inclusion and equity conference in Charlotte.

The event is open to all companies and people in the Charlotte community and surrounding areas. Leaders believe this is the perfect time to talk about diversity.

“Now is a good time,” CMPD Assistant Chief Vicki Foster said, “primarily because the community is changing. Our police department is changing. It’s becoming younger. It’s becoming more diverse.”

Racial incidents have been making headlines locally. There was an incident in 2018 involving the woman known as “SouthPark Susan.” Susan Westwood was charged with harassing two black women in the SouthPark area while they were waiting for a tow truck. Westwood could be heard telling the two women she was “white and hot.”

Safety leaders believe a diversity conference is something that should not happen just in Charlotte.

“This is a nationwide issue,” CFD Chief Reginald Johnson said. “And in today’s society we’ve seen a lot more of that here recently than in the past, at least outwardly, but just being brave enough to have those conversations. This conference will allow us to have those conversations openly.”

This conference will tackle subjects that may make attendees uncomfortable. The leaders believe the more uncomfortable the conversation is the quicker the community can get to a good place.

“And it’s not just race,” Foster said. “It’s gender, it’s culture, it’s religion, it’s all types of things. I think the value of diversity is what we are probably missing and I hope this conference will help bring out some of that.”

One of the topics that will be discussed is bias detected in the department’s hiring processes. The leaders have an opinion about that.

“When I walked in the door, I looked at our hiring practices. I looked at my recruiting and I can tell you I changed 90% of it - got rid of some people - changed how we approached people and changed how we look at applications,” Mecklenburg County Sheriff Garry McFadden said.

McFadden said he has 90 positions currently open at the Sheriff’s office. He wants to fill them with good candidates who can work comfortably in a diverse environment. Leaders say their departments don’t reflect the demographics of Charlotte. They want to fix that.

“I can tell you over the past three to four recruit classes they have been a lot more diverse," Johnson said, "but again it’s a drop in the bucket when you are talking about 1100 employees - 1,100 uniformed officers.”

Here is the makeup of the CFD: nearly 13% of the force is African American while 82% is White. CMPD reports sworn staff consists of 17% African American and 73% White. MEDIC reports 11 percent of its staff is African American and 80% are White. The MCSO reports out of nearly 1,100 employees 700 are African American and 320 are White.

CMPD says it is working on finding diverse people.

“We are focusing on HBCU colleges,” Foster said. “We are focusing on going to various events for cultural events, LGBTQ events - so we are really trying to broaden our pool.”

The departments are also using cultural competency to help their employees to understand the public they are working with. MEDIC thinks that is one way to better connect with the people they serve daily.

“I can never appreciate the lens you look through and vice versa,” MEDIC Director Joe Penner said. “It’s not a one way deal - so I need to learn tools that help me have conversation at a temperature that you and I will benefit from - right then we can progress.”

The conference takes place April 14-17. For more information, click here.

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