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.