The Town of Brookline conducted a Racial Climate Review Survey of the Town’s Police and Fire Departments, the findings for which were recently released to the media as a PowerPoint presentation. The Survey was prompted by a request from Fireman Gerald Alston in a November 2014 letter, as part of an appeal to the Board of Selectmen, to determine whether best practices were followed in the Pender/Alston Race Statement Case. Attorney Brooks Ames filed a lawsuit on behalf of Gerald Alston and Brookline Justice League, Inc. against the Town and Local 950 International Association of Firefighters on December 1, 2015. It should be noted that this Survey also serves the Town’s ongoing commitment to diversity and inclusion.

Two Officers Step Forward with New Allegations

The Racial Climate Review Survey also comes on the heals of allegations made at a Town Diversity and Inclusion Commission meeting by two Brookline PD officers, Prentice Pilot and Estifanos Zerai-Misgun, that they have been subjected to discrimination while serving on the Force. The Brookline Board of Selectmen meeting on January 5 will include a public comment period devoted to allegations of racism within the Brookline PD. The meeting is expected to be well attended by friends and supporters of Offers Pilot and Zaria, protestors of the Town’s racial policies from the Brookline Justice League, and the media.

Scope of Racial Climate Review Survey

The Survey was given to 300 members of the Brookline Fire and Police departments. Respondents were asked to answer questions with a score on a 1-5 range, from strongly-agree to strongly-disagree. The questions were:

  • Is there equal treatment within the departments?
  • What is the comfort level reporting issues and is there fear of retaliation?
  • Are there equal opportunities for all employees in their department?
  • Is management committed to diversity?
  • Do employees feel valued at their job?

The survey was confined to the issue of race and did not include all protected classes.  The survey did not include any respondents who identified themselves as Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Gender Neutral or Transgender from either department, although 8% defined their sexual orientation for the report as “Other.” No Fire respondents who identified themselves as Asian took part in the survey.

Survey Findings

The results of the Survey were inconclusive due to key factors, most notably low response rate and failure by some to complete the form. Despite being strongly urged to complete the survey by the Police and Fire Chiefs, the labor union, and the Town’s Chief Diversity Officer, Lloyd Gellineau, only 44%, or 131 of the possible 300 officers and firefighters who were asked to take the survey, responded. Even more concerning was that of the 131 who responded to the survey, only 90 completed it. Only the completed surveys were included in the Climate Review’s findings. It is unclear why some started the Survey but did not complete it, and no information is available on how many of the questions on the incomplete surveys were answered. The survey also included personal interviews with two Police department heads and two Fire department heads.

While the vast majority of those who completed the Survey reported no major issues with the diversity climate within their departments, and answered in a positive manner to most workforce diversity questions, those who responded positively, for the most part, identified themselves as white males, which is not a protected class. One noteworthy finding was that whites, males, and those who have been with the Brookline PD for 6-15 years were not interested in participating in Diversity and Inclusion Training.

Other noteworthy results from the Racial Climate Survey:

  • Some of those within the Fire Department, who did not identify themselves as white males, cited that they did not know who to report harassment issues to, and feared retaliation if doing so.
  • Some of those within the Fire Department, who did not identify themselves as white males, cited that they felt their work is not valued by others.
  • African Americans and Asians in Brookline PD reported feeling excluded, and having seen peers be excluded.
  • African Americans, Asians, Hispanics, and those with less then two years tenure in Brookline PD feel that they are at risk of retaliation if they report incidents.
  • Some respondents from both departments are not satisfied with department leadership.

Respondents from both departments also had the opportunity to offer comments. The range of comments included:

  • “Stop harping on the subject. We are diverse already. Everyone in our department gets along.”
  • “I would like to see more females and different ethnicities.”
  • “The Town needs to put forth more real effort to change the climate of the Town.”
  • “Treat your employees better in all respects.”
  • “I believe the Department is well within the regulations and goes beyond their goals.”
  • “Look to hire more diverse employees.”

Survey Takeaways

The Survey also offered recommendations on how the Town can move forward. Those recommendations were divided intro three categories:

Conceptual/Shared View (to be completed within 90 days)

  • Create a formal definition of diversity and inclusion
  • Build intent, vision and mission statements
  • Declare commitment level (tools, budget, resources etc.)

Structural (90-15 days)

  • Assist diversity council to mobilize and govern via outside facilitator
  • Form a plan and define expected outcomes and priority areas
  • Ensure accountability and metrics established
  • Review reporting policies and procedures
  • Continued advice, counsel and guidance

Operational (150-240 days)

  • Develop an internal communication plan that regularly conveys intent, progress and achievements
  • Implement a series of cultural dexterity trainings
  • Visible leadership pertaining to this topic
  • Build relationships with external diversity organizations
  • Actively recruit in arenas such as military, community based efforts, campus efforts, social media, and recruitment ambassadors
  • Build a mentoring program
  • Identify influential members of the community that can serve as champions

When asked about the Survey, Brookline’s Chief Diversity Officer, Lloyd Gellineau commented, “The survey suggests that the Police and Fire Department are moving in the right direction regarding having an understanding of the importance of Diversity and Inclusion. However, the survey does echo some of the concerns raised by some minority employees regarding where and how they can address their concerns without fear of retaliation. Some of the respondents do not trust that the system will fairly address their concerns. I think, as a Town, we need to continue to re-evaluate these processes and reasonably modify them so folks will use them, trust that they are safe using the processes, and that the processes are genuine and fair.”

Brookline Fire and Police Departments Racial Distribution

According to 2015 Equal Employment Opportunity Commission statistics, 12 of 155 Brookline PD employees, or 7.7%, and 13 of 149 Brookline Fire employees, or 8.7%, are African American. According to the 2010 U.S. Census, 3.4% of Brookline’s residents are African American. While these statistics indicate that African Americans are well represented within the two departments relative to their representation in the Town population, many in the Town question whether the Fire and especially Police departments should instead address the racial distribution of those who visit, work, and drive through Brookline on a daily basis.

~ R. Harvey Bravman