City of Gaithersburg considering full-time position for racial equity

Gaithersburg considering full-time position for racial equity

City Council discusses racial disparities in police department

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The Gaithersburg City Council is considering creating a full-time position in the city devoted to racial equity.

The idea came up on Monday night, when the council also discussed racial disparities in the city’s police department.

Gaithersburg is one of many local jurisdictions participating in a racial equity cohort under the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG) umbrella organization.

COG launched the racial equity initiative one year ago in partnership with the Government Alliance on Race and Equit. The goal is to improve racial equity in public safety, transportation, community development and governing, among other areas.

Eleven local governments have participated in meetings during the past year. Others include Montgomery County and the city of Takoma Park.

Representing Gaithersburg, project manager Kevin Etters and budget analyst Nathan Bassett have participated in the COG meetings.

They gave a presentation to the council on Monday, including data on the racial makeup of city employees.

About 52% of city employees are white, but among management positions, the number increases to 84%. One quarter of the city’s employees are Black, and the number shrinks to 11% for management positions.

Among the suggestions the COG commission has discussed is having city governments create a full-time staff position devoted to racial equity who would report to the mayor and city council. Montgomery County hired its first chief equity officer in February.

Gaithersburg Council Member Ryan Spiegel said he wants the city to examine comparable governments to determine how they address racial equity. Adding a full-time staff position, he said, could be difficult now due to budget constraints caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, but the long-term benefits might outweigh the costs.

“I would be interested in having further discussion of the details of how we make that full-time position work,” he said.

The council also heard a presentation from Lt. Chris Vance about the Gaithersburg Police Department’s racial makeup. Of the department’s 61 sworn officers, 72% are white, 11.5% are Black and 11.5% are Hispanic. Additionally, half of all promotions in the department from 2014 to 2020 were for white men.

Council Member Laurie-Anne Sayles pointed to another statistic — there are no Black women in the department.

Vance replied that the issue is “on the radar” for the department, and it hopes to recruit Black women through college and career fairs, as well as the cadet program.

“We have never had a Black female officer in our department, and that’s something we have recognized for some time, and it’s something we’re trying to change,” he said.

Later, Vance said he thinks the ongoing tension nationally between communities of color and police departments factor in to the lack of diversity in the department.

“Nationally, when you look at attitudes toward police and law enforcement … I think that affects our ability to recruit in those populations,” he said.

Dan Schere can be reached at daniel.schere@bethesdamagazine.com

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