Former head of Reading police diversity board calls for federal monitor

The longtime head of Reading’s police diversity board says the ciry’s police department is failing to live up to the terms of a 2005 settlement.

Before Valentin Rodriquez resigned last month, the board handed in its latest progress report, calling for a federal monitor to oversee hiring more Spanish-speaking officers.

Latinos make up 58 percent of Reading’s population but less than 10 percent of the city’s police force.

Rodriguez says the the police department has fewer Spanish-speaking officers than when the settlement was agreed upon by the city and the Pennsylvania Statewide Leadership Coalition.

“If you look at the numbers, the numbers speak for themselves,” he said. “There’s not a reason you’d have a growing bilingual Hispanic population in the city and you have a settlement agreement that’s looking to address issues of hiring and selection within the police department and it’s gotten worse. So if it’s gotten worse, something’s not working.”

Reading police maintain there has been marginal improvement as the police force has actually gotten smaller due to budget cuts.  Police Chief William Heim said that the department lost 75 officers within a short period and has been consumed with other pressing money worries.

He said it would be premature to bring in a federal monitor. While the police department has introduced a system that gives extra points to Spanish-speaking candidates, he said not enough applicants meet the  department’s requirements.

“I don’t think we’re preparing Hispanics early enough to consider a career in law enforcement,” Heim added. “I think that’s where members of community can do a better job than the police department can in getting people interested in law enforcement careers, making sure, for instance, that they don’t get in trouble.”

If appointed, a federal monitor would have more tools to work with, Rodriguez said, including the ability to recommend withholding federal funds to enforce compliance with the settlement agreement.

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