At least some of the Minneapolis Police Department's persistent problems with recruiting women and people of color to its ranks can be blamed on the department's slow and often confusing hiring process.
To address that hurdle, identified in an "Equity in Police Recruiting" report released Monday, researchers recommended that the department find ways to shorten the length of time between application and hiring.
"Many candidates are taking other jobs before they can complete the recruiting process," the 17-page report said.
Many seemingly qualified candidates were voluntarily dropping out early in the process, particularly during the physical fitness portion, according to the report presented at the city audit committee's regular meeting on Monday.
Of those who voluntarily dropped out during that stage, more than a third did not show up on testing day, the report said. That was especially true for women, who failed the fitness test at higher rates than their male colleagues, according to Ginger Bigbie, the city's internal audit director.
"The most contributing factor was people not showing up to the test," Bigbie said of the high failure rates for female candidates.
Some applicants said the length of the selection process contributed to their decision not to take the fitness test, with some taking jobs elsewhere in the meantime, she said. Meanwhile, others reported that a lack of scheduling flexibility made it difficult for them to participate, she said. Others worried that they couldn't pass "one or more components of the fitness test," according to the report.
Officials said the department is planning to overhaul its conditioning test for new recruits by phasing out the Cooper standard — running a certain distance, doing pushups and situps, and having a vertical jump of at least 13 inches — in favor of a rowing machine, which they said provides a more complete picture of an officer's physical condition.
In doing so, Minneapolis is joining other departments around the country that have relaxed their fitness requirements, both to attract recruits amid the national officer shortage and out of fear of costly lawsuits, experts say.
Stark disparities in the testing scores of female candidates forced the department to acknowledge what critics in other cities have long argued about the Cooper test: that it's gender-biased, a claim that has led to multiple challenges in court.
The report also found that minority candidates were twice as likely than their white colleagues to be dismissed during the background check.
While diversity in hiring has picked up in recent years, and the department recently appointed the first black police chief in its 150-plus-year history, Minneapolis still lags behind other cities of similar size and racial makeup. Less than a quarter of the force are ethnic minorities.
The department has also had a tough time recruiting and retaining female officers.
Mayor Jacob Frey and Police Chief Medaria Arradondo have both said boosting the department's diversity is a top priority.
John Gordon, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union's Minnesota chapter, said that with police departments struggling to bridge the trust gap with the people they serve, "it's important to invest time and resources into increasing transparency, accountability, fairness and public safety."
Asked for comment Monday, police spokesman John Elder said department leaders hadn't yet had a chance to review the report.
A follow-up audit, expected later this year, will delve into other parts of the process, including the medical review, police academy and job placement, Bigbie said.