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City seeking black police drops swimmer rule

By Associated Press
Published April 23, 2004

NORTH MIAMI - Partly to recruit more blacks, North Miami officials have decided to eliminate a requirement that new police officers be proficient swimmers.

The mayor and police chief say that while the decision was not based solely on race, a swimming prerequisite on the police application has discouraged some blacks, including Haitian-Americans, from signing up.

"Our swimming requirement may give the false perception that we are not serious in our efforts to hire Haitian police applicants," police Chief Gwendolyn Boyd-Savage, who is black, wrote in a memo.

"They have been intimidated because they don't swim; very few of them swim," said Mayor Joe Celestin, who is Haitian-American. "They have the ability to learn how to swim, but many of them are not that great of a swimmer. ... We want to bring them in and give them a chance to learn."

The requirement has been for police recruits to swim 150 feet without stopping while wearing all clothing except shoes, Assistant Chief Doug Brown said Thursday.

But since 1986, city officers have entered the water just eight times for rescue attempts.

Brown said any recruit who cannot swim would have to complete swimming lessons.

Several police departments in Miami-Dade County have dropped a swimming requirement, though the area has hundreds of miles of beaches, lakes and canals.

Swimming ability is not a requirement for new hires in the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office or in the Tampa or St. Petersburg police departments.

About 60 percent of North Miami's population is African-American or Haitian-American. Celestin said he wants his police force to reflect the city's diversity.

[Last modified April 23, 2004, 01:20:38]

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