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Applicant pool rises for Phila. police

The new residency rule is credited with boosting the number of potential recruits.

Two months after City Council passed a bill allowing the city to hire nonresidents, the pool of applicants who want to be Philadelphia police officers has more than doubled.

The city personnel department said that 4,967 applicants took the recruit exam last Saturday, a 134 percent increase over a year ago, when 2,125 were tested.

Of the people who applied to take the exam, 39 percent were non-residents, according to the department.

Commanders greeted the explosion of job-seekers with glee after watching the pool of applicants shrink in recent years. Officials here were particularly irked that police departments from New York and other jurisdictions frequently visited Philadelphia to seek criminal-justice majors at Temple University and other local colleges, many of whom were off-limits to city police because of the residency restrictions.

"I'm not saying that people from Philadelphia aren't great, but we're going to get a better pool of applicants," said Capt. Frederick Cotton, head of the recruitment unit.

The large pool of applicants bodes well for Mayor Nutter, who has promised to add 500 officers to the 6,700-member force in the next three years. Nutter pushed City Council to get rid of the requirement that new employees must be city residents for at least one year before they were hired for city jobs. New hires still have to move into the city within six months.

But the number of applicants from outside the city is a concern to the Guardian Civic League, the organization that represents minority police officers. In the '80s, the league fought a protracted court battle to force the city to increase the number of minorities in the department.

"We are very concerned about the number of people coming from outside the city who don't know the city," said Rochelle Bilal, Guardian Civic League president. "We're monitoring the situation to make sure the racial makeup of the department doesn't get out of line."

The department's racial composition is a sensitive political and legal issue. The city signed a federal-court consent decree in 1990 requiring it to develop a race-neutral exam. While the exam was being devised in the 1990s, the city relied upon a stopgap system in which the percentage of African American recruits in each Police Academy class had to match the percentage of blacks who took the exam regardless of how many passed or failed.

That approach increased black representation on the force from 22 percent in 1990 to 34 percent in 1999, when the race-neutral exam was implemented.

Since 1999, the department's racial makeup has remained largely static. The department now is 34.5 percent black, 63.7 percent white, 1.1 percent Asian and the rest "other." (In addition, 7.8 percent of the officers identified themselves as Latinos, who can be of any race, up from 5.9 percent in 2002.)

African Americans are still underrepresented compared to the population at large - Philadelphia is 44 percent black and 42 percent white, according to the U.S. Census Bureau's 2006 population estimates.

Precisely what effect the broader pool of applicants will have on the department is uncertain.

Though it is widely assumed that applicants from outside the city include more whites than those from Philadelphia, the personnel department will not compile final racial tallies until after the tests are scored, according to Mark O'Connor, who heads the bureau that hires uniformed city workers.

Those who pass the entrance exam are required to submit to a criminal-background check, as well as a battery of physical, medical, psychological and reading tests, before they enter the Police Academy. The physical test alone takes a high toll, according to Cotton - only 40 percent pass the test on the first attempt.

The successful applicants from last week's exam will be eligible to enter the academy in October, Cotton said. The list of applicants is in effect for two years. Applicants must be between 19 and 39 years old. Recruits are paid $38,481, which increases to $41,151 after graduating from the 30-week training program at the academy.