Back in the dark ages, that is the early to mid-1980s, I worked on a study for then Virginia Governor Charles Robb. He wanted to know several things including how we could recruit more African-Americans and women to the State Police and how, once we hired them, they could be retained. I can’t recall that we came up with anything one wouldn’t have expected including things like more training for command in diversity issues. I do remember one black trooper I interviewed had an idea on how to recruit people. He suggested that he be made part of the Governor’s security detail which would provide lots of visibility. I told the Governor and the next thing I knew, the trooper was thanking me when we ran into each other on the Capitol grounds. I have no idea if his presence helped recruit more blacks to the ranks or not but it did provide some visibility and I remember that the Capitol Police then hired several black officers.
So my little story took place in 1983. This morning’s New York Times has some very interesting charts on large Metropolitan police departments and the differences between their racial compositions and those of the towns they serve.
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, according to an analysis of a government survey of police departments. 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. Listed below are local police departments from 15 metropolitan areas, sorted so that departments with the largest percentage-point differences of white officers to white residents are at the top.
We clearly have a long way to go. I wonder if part of the recruitment problem is the sheer number of young black and Hispanic men who have conviction records. Perhaps we should look into that.
I was interested to see that Boston (+18) and Somerville (+15) were doing pretty well. Those are two of the police departments I’ve worked with in the recent past. Other departments should take a look at this chart and talk to some of the successful agencies – and I don’t mean towns that have a small gap because the population of the town itself is mostly white – and learn from what they have done.
Incidents like the shooting in Ferguson don’t happen in a vacuum. Look up a town near you and ask questions if you don’t like what you see.
As a footnote: While I was looking to a picture to add, I was surprised at the number of stock photographs showing police in riot gear and/or arresting someone, often a black male. Just another part of the problem.