By Laila Kearney and Barbara Goldberg
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Even with minorities nearly outnumbering whites among New York City police officers, the department is struggling to hire enough blacks and Muslims to reflect changing city demographics, Police Commissioner Bill Bratton said in an interview on Monday.
Across the United States, the hiring of non-white officers has taken on added urgency in the past year following a number of high-profile cases in which minorities were killed while being arrested, straining relations between police departments and the public.
Bratton, whose own department came under criticism after Eric Garner, an unarmed black man, died last year when an arresting officer held him in a chokehold, said hiring practices were being overhauled to help recruit more African-American candidates.
For instance, it can take as many as four years between the time an applicant takes the police entrance exam and actually gets a job offer - with half of applicants dropping out and black applicants disproportionately affected. That process, he said, would be cut to a single year.
The department faces other challenges in hiring black police officers, he said, including competition from employers outside of law enforcement who can pay more than the $44,744 starting salary offered to NYPD officers. Criminal convictions also reduce the pool of black candidates by 30 percent, he said.
"If you're a smart young black male you don't necessarily want to go into American policing, you want to get hired by Twitter or Google, make a lot more money and not have the complexities of being a black policeman in America today," Bratton said.
African-American officers make up 9 percent of the current class of 1,200 recruits being sworn in this week. Overall, there are 5,333 black officers in the NYPD's force of 34,631, or about 15 percent. Among other minority groups, 9,271 are Hispanic, 2,218 Asian and 20 Native American. Some 17,789 are white, according to department officials.
Bratton said he also wanted to hire more Muslim officers, because the threat of ISIS-related attacks on U.S. soil made it crucial to have stronger relationships with the local Muslim community.
The challenge to recruiting Muslim candidates, many of whom are new to the United States, is the requirement that officers finish 60 college credits, or about two years, and have U.S. citizenship, said John Miller, Deputy Commissioner Intelligence and Counterterrorism.
The department currently employs 900 Muslim officers with the highest-ranking Muslim a deputy inspector.
(Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Eric Walsh)