Diversity is More Than Race or Gender

la-la-na-somali-police-minnesota04-jpg-20140908When I talk about diversity I don’t just mean race and gender. Diversity is more. It is, also about ethnicity, culture, national origin and sexual orientation. Diversity is necessary in our police because they work in a multi-cultural, diverse society. Without diversity in a police department it will be unable to fully serve and have the respect and trust necessary to be effective in our free society.

In Madison, we had a motto that helped us become more diverse during my years as chief of police — “Diversity is our strength.” We began to see diversity as an asset, not a liability. Diversity can and should bring changes into any department. We made changes so that women would not be excluded. We made changes with regard to hiring racial minorities. We made changes regarding those who applied with a different sexual orientation.

Those changes came about because the test was this: is what we are requiring of our candidates job-related and necessary to perform the actual requirements of a police officer? If not, they can and should be changed to broaden those who serve in our ranks.

I remember years ago the struggle within the British police about whether or not to permit Sikh men who were applying for the police serve to wear a turban. As I understand it, the religious proscription for Sikh men is that they must cover their hair. The same also applies to Muslim women in one way or another. “It wasn’t British,” some complained. Others groused, “You must fit in to our standards, not ours to yours.”

Earlier, in 2012, the Washington, DC police permitted Sikh applicants to be able to continue to wear beards and a turban if they were hired (a change in former police regulations.).

imagesThere are 80,000 Somalis in the Minneapolis-St Paul area. The St. Paul Police Department has made some changes to open the ranks of their department in order to attract Somalis to police work. It was a necessary step and Kadra Mohamed was their first hire.

The following article is John Glionna’s report to the LA Times on September 9, 2014 about St. Paul’s effort to bring more diversity into their ranks:

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“Kadra Mohamed walks into an old haunt, the Grocery and Meat Market on the city’s north side, where as a girl she shopped with her mother. She breathes in the heady smell of Somali spices, halal meat and the bread she has loved since growing up in a nearby public housing project.

“Two girls in silky abaya gowns rush to embrace her, their mother standing back shyly. The market’s owner, Abdi Mohamed, steps from behind his shelves. ‘Kadra, it’s you,’ he says in the lilting Somali language. He asks about her mother, then pauses. ‘It’s good to see you in uniform.’

“At 22, Mohamed is a newly minted cop on the beat, a community liaison officer making a courtesy call to a merchant, a time-tested neighborhood policing method. Still, this visit — and each one she makes in this immigrant bastion — breaks new ground. ‘I’m a target for those with concerns about safety. I’m a short, black, Muslim female. Of course I stand out.’

“In March, the St. Paul Police Department hired Mohamed, its first female Somali officer, a move designed to improve the sometimes tense relations with 80,000 Somali Americans in the Twin Cities — more than half of them in St. Paul — the nation’s largest Somali community. Each time she wears her crisp blue police uniform with its thick black leather belt and handcuffs, the 5-foot-1 Mohamed also dons her hijab, the traditional head scarf worn in public by many Muslim women.

“Her presence has divided this Midwestern city of 290,000 residents. One blogger called her hiring a politically correct and potentially perilous gesture. By allowing her to wear a hijab, he wrote, the department ‘has placed her life on the line in more ways than one.’  Some officers complain she is breaking a long-standing uniform code. The department modified the hijab with metal snaps that allow the head scarf to come off in a scuffle. But Mohamed makes no excuses. Once an aspiring lawyer, she shifted her goal to police work because of her desire to help her community.

“‘I’m a target for those with concerns about safety,’ she says. ‘I’m a short, black, Muslim female. Of course I stand out.’

“But criticism has also come from the Somali American community. Older Somalis say she’s breaking a cultural creed: wearing pants and short-sleeve shirts and working closely among men in public. After Mohamed passes her police exams, she will apply for a job as a sworn officer. That means she’ll carry a gun.  [To read the rest of the L.A. Times article by John Glionna CLICK HERE.]

Diversity is never easy because it means change.

But to properly police a free society diversity is absolutely essential.

Diversity is a strength, not a liability!