The Lack of Diversity in Our Nation’s Police — A Time To Act (Again)

images Given what has happened in Ferguson, I have been wondering whether or not this was the situation with our nation’s smaller police agencies which surround our largest cities or not.

Reporters Jeremy Ashkenas and Haeyoun Park report today in The New York Times that this is, in fact, the situation — there is a large racial gap in our nation’s police departments!

Now I ask myself, given the Kerner Commission Report in the late ’60s about the causes and prevention of violence in America and our efforts during the ’70s and ’80s with regard to Affirmative Action, how could we have let this happen?

Our major cities (often with the help of court orders and mayoral elections) did fairly well during this time to diversify the police in their cities. Evidently this has not been the case in our nation’s smaller (and often suburban) cities.

I am equally concerned about the lack of women in our nation’s police departments. Diversity is more than race — it is also gender, culture, and sexual identity.

For those of us concerned about quality policing in our nation, we now find ourselves in a dangerous situation — the lack of diversity in our nation’s police and those departments lacking the important benefits that diversity brings — community trust, support, fairness, and, yes, police effectiveness. I submit that a diverse police organization is more effective than one which is not.

Ashkenas and Haeyoun write about today’s race gap:

“In hundreds of police departments across the country, the percentage of whites on the force is more than 30 percentage points higher than in the communities they serve… Minorities make up a quarter of police forces, according to the 2007 survey, the most recent comprehensive data available.

“Experts say that diversity in the police force increases a department’s credibility with its community. ‘Even if police officers of whatever race enforce the law in relatively the same way, there is a huge image problem with a department that is so out of sync with the racial composition of the local population,’ said Ronald Weitzer, a sociologist at George Washington University.

Their report listed local police departments from 15 metropolitan areas.

To read their full report and see the disparity graph of our largest metropolitan areas, CLICK HERE.

For an interesting report on the importance of diversity in police departments see this excellent REPORT and action plan from Scotland.

It is time for leaders in our cities and police departments to take immediate and remedial action.

8 Comments

  1. Rather telling that they have to rely on 2007 data (this is 2014). Also, the measurement of race/ethnicity is more problematic than often acknowledged — both are multi-dimensional variables, not simple categories, as the Census Bureau’s new items in 2010 tried to take into account.

    Boston Globe story pointed out low diversity in the larger Massachusetts agencies, with only Boston PD looking reasonably diverse. A big roadblock in the northeast is rigid civil service systems, often supported by strong unions. Ironic that, in what is generally perceived as the most liberal state in the nation, police diversity is poor.

    Strictly on the numbers, our worst record on diversity is women.

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    1. Very good points, Gary. Yes, I was concerned with the 2007 data (I wonder why we don’t have better ways to track diversity and its importance?) When Affirmative Action was “king,” those civil service exams (with their biases) went quickly by the wayside. When it was important politically for us to do something (the fear of urban riots) when did it. Women are an important ingredient and one or two per department won’t cut it. I remember back in the AA days that we calculated that the “interest” of women in policing was about 30% — the Madison PD is at 35% today and no one can (or should) say that women have not made the most impact on improving the quality of policing in America! They have!

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  2. I would also worry about diversity when the Latino population becomes the majority of the US population and they fill up the police forces but won’t allow diversity.

    California isa liberal state; however, police departments like LAPD were predominately white and conservative so it doesn’t matter if you live in a conservative or liberal state and whether or not you have strong unions or no unions. It is a problem of police department personnel being overhelmingly conservative particularly if they are ex-military even though you supposely have rigid civil service laws to stop this kind of stuff from happening.

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  3. Where I live, the rural area has minorities far and few, so you are not going to get a large pool of candidates and the small law enforcement agenices in the rural areas have a hard time trying to hold on to their officers due to pay, benefits, ability to promote, and lack of diverse opportunities within their own departments. The rural area is a tight, small-knit community where everyone knows everyone else, so it is impossible for an outsider to join the police force so police unions and civil services laws have nothing to recruting minorities or the lack of it.. You are definately an outisider whether you are white, black, Latino, etc., if you do not come from that community.

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  4. In his book, Black on Blue, John Burris stated that it doesn’t matter if a department has women and minorities, there is still a problem regarding the culture of the police where women and miniorities are trying to fit into the culture, be accept by their fellow officers, and prove how tough they are.

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    1. I agree. Unless the culture is changed (you know, that which I “preach”) — police who are smart, educated, controlled in their use of force, honest, intimately connected with their community and respectful to everyone, not much can be accomplished. However, having said that, diversity will make a big difference in most agencies!

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