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Black NYPD Detectives Denied Promotions 'Solely Based on Race,' Suit Says

By Ben Fractenberg | September 25, 2017 4:19pm | Updated on September 25, 2017 5:27pm
 African American detectives in the NYPD's Intelligence Division were passed over for promotion because of their race, according to a federal lawsuit filed Monday.
African American detectives in the NYPD's Intelligence Division were passed over for promotion because of their race, according to a federal lawsuit filed Monday.
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MANHATTAN — A group of black detectives in the NYPD’s Intelligence Division were denied promotions for a decade “solely based on race,” the NYCLU claimed in a federal class-action lawsuit filed Monday.

Jon McCollum, Ronald Stephens and Theodore Coleman all joined the intelligence unit in 2001 and helped with the cleanup at Ground Zero before joining the division’s so-called “rap unit,” which formed in 2005 in part to protect performers at venues, where they were all repeatedly passed over for promotions while the lone, less-experienced white detective in the unit was given a bump in rank, according to the suit.

“For well over a decade, the NYPD’s Intelligence Division has implemented a secretive and unstructured promotions policy, administered by white supervisors who refuse to promote deserving African-Americans detectives,” the lawsuit claims.

“As a result of these policies, Named Plaintiffs and other African-American detectives have been repeatedly denied well-deserved promotions— even when recommended by their direct supervisors—without explanation, while less qualified white detectives have been promoted above them.”

The detectives finally filed a complaint in 2011 with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

The labor commission found that the detectives — who they said received high-performance ratings throughout their carriers and had “unblemished records” — were denied promotions in a “wholly subjective and secretive process,” according to the 2016 report first made public by The New York Times on Sept. 21.

McCollum retired in June 2016 after 24 years on the force and Stephens last July after joining in 1991. Coleman died of cancer last year.

“I watched countless white detectives from my class move up in rank, but not me,” McCollum said in a statement. “Multiple supervisors told me if I were white I would have been promoted.”

There were about 280 detectives in the Intelligence Division as of 2013, the suit added, though fewer than 10 percent of them were African American.  

The “vast majority” of African American detectives in the division were also at the rank of third grade, which pays about $30,000 less than first-grade detectives, NYCLU said in a statement.

The promotion of black officers improved somewhat after they filed the EEOC complaint, with three African American detectives being promoted from their former unit, according to the lawsuit.

“African-American detectives, however, continue to lag behind in promotions as compared to their white counterparts,” the suit claimed. “And the upper ranks of the Intelligence Division still contain no African Americans—no Captains, Deputy Inspectors, or Chiefs.”

The lawsuit sought retroactive promotions for African American detectives in the division “and to provide them the associated back pay and associated benefits, including increased pension benefits.”

An NYPD spokesman said the department has been aware of the allegations "for some time" and been in contact with federal investigators. 

"Following the EEOC’s investigation, the NYPD presented information on promotions and diversity within the Intelligence Bureau to the Department of Justice. After review of this, DOJ declined to pursue the case," Assistant Commissioner Peter Donald said in a statement. 

"A review of a recent ten year period, which includes the timeframe of this litigation, shows that black third-grade detectives within the Intelligence Bureau were promoted at a faster pace than their colleagues.”