Kenneth Davenport is sworn as a sergeant in 2008. On Tuesday, he will be made lieutenant.
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WORCESTER — It has been 20 years since the Police Department promoted a black police officer to a lieutenant position, but on Tuesday Sgt. Kenneth Davenport will follow in the footsteps of Lt. Loman A. Rutherford Sr., the last black lieutenant for the department, who was so revered that an award was created in his name.

The promotion of Sgt. Davenport comes at a time when the Police Department and city are being accused in a civil court complaint of not promoting minority officers. The group of minority officers involved in the Worcester Superior Court action includes Sgt. Davenport.

For Police Chief Gary J. Gemme, the promotion and addition of minority officers to the police force has been a priority for almost a decade. There was one minority sergeant when he started as chief in 2004. After the Tuesday promotions there will be a total of five minority supervisors, one lieutenant and four sergeants.

"This is another step forward — not a giant step forward," Chief Gemme said. "I know going forward you are going to see more and more minority candidates and minority supervisors."

Results of promotional exams are showing that more minority officers testing better than other officers. Although the department has been restructured during financial difficulties, limiting the number of supervisors to 83, Chief Gemme said more minority officers will be promoted as retirements take place and other openings become available.

The reduction in ranks occurred in September 2009. It was then decided new funds would go toward replenishing the officer ranks. The change in command structure saves $1.2 million annually, the chief said.

Earlier this year, Sgt. Davenport and Officers Charles Brace, James Guittar and Armando Garcia accused the Police Department and City Manager Michael V. O'Brien of allowing the sergeant and lieutenant promotional exams to expire to deny minority officers promotions. The complaint was made with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination, then brought to the superior court.

"I always looked at those complaints as really unfounded, simply because I think it is pretty evident when I came the police chief minority recruitment was a priority," Chief Gemme said.

Joseph L. Sulman, the officers' lawyer, said Sgt. Davenport will remain as a plaintiff in the complaint even with the promotion. If the sergeant was promoted earlier he would have earned more money and better retirement benefits.

"It is our position that Ken was on prior lists and there were no promotions in the prior list because of the chief's disinclination to promote minorities," Mr. Sulman said.

Chief Gemme wants more minority and female supervisors and officers. Promotions have to come through the structure in place – promotional exams – and tampering with that structure could cause morale and union issues, he said.

A group of officers from different departments in Massachusetts has challenged the state promotional exam for police officers as well, calling it unfair for minorities.

"There were some situations where people didn't think we were moving fast enough or some people wanted to be promoted even if no positions were available," Chief Gemme said. "We can't manipulate the promotional system."

Projected retirements in 2014, 2015 and 2016 show there will be opportunities for all officers to move up in rank as long as they study, work hard and take the exam, the chief said.

The department is taking a long-term approach in strengthening the minority ranks, Chief Gemme said. Recent recruit classes added minority officers to the department, which over time can increase the number of minority supervisors, the chief added.

The police department's current recruit class has 24 members, six of them minority recruits. The April 2013 class had 17 recruits, eight of them minority.

Sgt. Davenport, a 41-year-old veteran of the department, could not comment on the pending civil lawsuit. He did say, "as long as we create the opportunity to excel and succeed we are headed in the right direction."

He knows Lt. Rutherford has a solid reputation in the community.

"Those are big shoes to fill," said the 17-year member of the department. "He was a man of fortitude. I hope I can follow in those footsteps and just excel."

Lt. Rutherford died in 2000 at the age of 59 after battling cancer.

Both he and Detective Lee Boykin will be the two minority officers being promoted. Detective Boykin, 51, will move to the rank of sergeant.

They both believe it is important to have a Police Department that reflects the community it serves. Adding a diverse group of officers to the department allows for officers to better relate to different people and communities and give children of any ethnicity a role model, the officers said.

"The trend is going in a good direction," Detective Boykin said. "I can see it becoming even more diverse as the years go on which is good for the department and the city."

Sgt. Davenport will be pinned by his 19-year-old son Devin at an afternoon ceremony in City Hall Tuesday.

Sergeant James P. Ferraro will be promoted to lieutenant and pinned by his father, retired police Lt. Joseph Ferraro.

Detective Boykin will be pinned by his wife, Marilyn Boykin. Detective Christopher J. Murphy will be promoted to sergeant and pinned by his wife, Tracy Murphy. Officer David P. Doherty will be promoted to sergeant and pinned by his grandfather Alfred Larson.