MIDTOWN — Though the most recent graduating class of new NYPD officers was predominantly white and male, top brass in the department said the last couple of classes had noticeable increases in African-American and Asian members, particularly Asian women.
Police Commissioner James O'Neill talked about diversity after a graduation ceremony Wednesday, as he unveiled changes to the NYPD's rules that will allow Sikh officers to wear turbans and beards on duty.
"I think it's important that we continue in this light because it's important to have a police department that reflects the diversity of the city," O'Neill said. "It helps us build trust."
In his speech to the new graduates, O'Neill emphasized the importance of "neighborhood policing," encouraging the new officers to be "friendlier."
He personally shouted out one new officer, Trinidad native Terry-Ann Ferguson, who spent part of her childhood in Brooklyn with a father who was a police officer, and was herself an officer in South Carolina before joining the NYPD.
Ferguson said after the ceremony that she hopes to be assigned to a precinct in a community with people who look like her, so young black women might see her on the street and think, "I could be like her one day."
Ferguson was one of 555 new officers to graduate Wednesday, among which there were 106 women.
While that makes for only 19 percent of the class, Assistant Chief Kim Royster, who leads the department's efforts to recruit more diverse members, said that number was good for the department historically — the highest percent of women they've had was 21 percent two classes ago.
"We're still trying to increase our efforts in recruiting women in all demographics," she said.
Ferguson also was part of the 12 percent of black members of her class. The rest of the class was 48 percent white, 25.77 percent Hispanic and 13.51 percent Asian.
Royster said she was "very happy" about the statistics on new Asian officers.
"Within the last couple of classes that we've hired, we've seen an increase definitely in African-Americans, and also Asian women as well as Asians as a whole," she said. "So our efforts in reaching out to the communities that we want to represent to make this department diverse is definitely working."
Those efforts have included being more proactive in neighborhoods with large African-American communities, Royster said.
"We’re reaching out to the high schools as well as the colleges," she said. "We also have a way for African-American males and females to contact our website, and when they contact our website, we’re actually giving them information about how they can apply for the test as well as mentoring them through the exam.
"We’re looking to not just have a way of handing out a flyer for African-Americans but talking to them and mentoring them to make sure that they realize also that this is a viable career," she added.
O'Neill said his experience as a precinct commander and as Chief of Department before becoming commissioner taught him how important it was to diversify the NYPD, "especially in light of all the events nationally and locally that occurred."
The unrest following the deaths of Eric Garner on Staten Island and Mike Brown in Ferguson, Mo. "absolutely was a consideration," he said.
O'Neill also highlighted a part of his "neighborhood policing" approach that will have some officers, known as Neighborhood Coordination Officers or NCOs, helping with recruiting efforts.
"It'll be more of a street-level [approach]. The cops that are actually doing the work will also be doing recruiting for us," he said.
THE NEWEST NYPD CLASS BY THE NUMBERS
► 555 new officers, plus two new MTA officers
► 51 officers previously served in the U.S. Armed Forces
► 62 percent live in the five boroughs
► 10 used to be school safety agents
► 20 were traffic enforcement agents
► 40 languages spoken
► 39 countries of origin
► 48 percent white, 12 percent black, over 25 percent Hispanic, 13 percent Asian
► 19 percent women