Florence Councilman: Diversity needed on police force to prevent Ferguson-like unrest

Florence City Councilman Ed Robinson. Photo from the City of Florence website

Florence City Councilman Ed Robinson said during a news conference Wednesday that Florence could soon experience the same violence and unrest that's taking place in Ferguson, Missouri, if it doesn't hire more African Americans as police officers.

"People need to stand up. We have got to stand up. Because what has happened in, in Ferguson is just a boiling point here, that just have not exploded yet. So, we need to take a proactive move to stop that," said Robinson.

Census data from 2010 shows Florence's racial makeup as 50% white and 46% black.

Information obtained from the City of Florence shows that it employs a total of 152 people on the police force.

66% of the employees are white and 34% are black.

City information shows the police department's patrol unit is 81% white and 19% black.

Robinson argued the city's police force isn't reflective of its community. He said he's complained over the years of the racial disparities within the police force, but no one is listening.

"I've asked these questions before and what I'm told is we can't find any qualified applicants for police and fire. Because we're targeted. We're targeted and once you get that little record, you're not qualified to be that," he said.

WPDE took Robinson's concerns to Florence Police Chief Allen Heidler and he said Robinson has a point that more minority police officers are needed in the community.

"I don't disagree with that at all. In fact, when the city manager and I talked about this at the time when I was appointed to be interim police chief, I expressed that to him that I thought that our agency should reflect more of what our community looks like. So, yes that's huge to us and we're going to do all that we can to attract those folks, the best and the brightest," said Heidler.

He added there are a number of programs in place to recruit African Americans to the police department.

Heidler said the department's Class 3 Police Officer position seems to attract more minorities. The position calls for limited police duties, but allows officers to be promoted to a Class 1 position, which is a full time officer.

He also said the department's youth explorer program seeks to get more African American teenagers interested in a career in law enforcement.

Florence Human Resources Director Scotty Davis said the city is seeking to recruit more minorities to its police department. He said they're recruiting at Historically Black Colleges and Universities, and military bases in South Carolina and North Carolina.

The city also has a video job description of what it's like to be a police officer on its website to attract more African Americans and other minorities to its fire and police departments.

Davis believes their efforts are working.

"The city has always attempted to hire the best and the brightest. Certainly, African Americans make up the best and brightest of our workforce. We're committed to growing our workforce through different means. I think we've done a relatively good job. Certainly, we can increase those numbers. We're trying our best to increase those numbers," he said.

But Robinson isn't convinced and has formed an oversight committee to press city officials to do a better job of hiring blacks in law enforcement.