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Why Cultural Diversity is Needed in Law Enforcement

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Before answering the question of why diversity is important, one must understand what it is. According to Belfield, “Multiculturalism is a system of beliefs and behavior that recognizes and respects the presence of all diverse groups in an organization or society, acknowledges and values their socio-cultural differences, and encourages and enables their continued contribution within an inclusive cultural context which empowers all within the organization or society”. To put it simply it is the exchange of knowledge and understanding of other cultures for the betterment of mankind.

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The increasing tensions between law enforcement and the public have come to a boiling point and it’s starting to spill over. Some people would argue that tensions are as high as they were during the civil rights era in the early 1960’s, some would argue that they are worse. These conditions have caused law makers and law enforcement managers to seek out answers as to how they can repair their relations with the public and become an entity that the people can place their trust in.

To help aid with the search, in 2015 President Obama created the Task Force on 21st Century Policing. This task force brought together a diverse group ranging from law enforcement executives, community advocates, law makers, and community members, to explore ways for bettering community-police relations, reducing crime, and advancing public safety into the 21st century. In one of its key findings for building better community-police relations, they focused on the need to ensure law enforcement agencies better reflect the diversity of the communities they serve.

Through their research they discovered that a more diverse police force can bring about many changes and reforms to not only to law enforcement but also the community as a whole. This is supported by years of study and research confirming that when members of the public believe their law enforcement agencies represent them, listen to them, respect them and when communities perceive their agencies as fair, legitimate, and accountable, it greatly increases their trust in law enforcement and brings about trust in their government.

This trust is crucial to defusing tension in the community, allows law enforcement to better solve crimes, and to creating a system in which residents view law enforcement as fair and just. Members of the public, including victims and witnesses of crime, may not approach or interact with law enforcement if they do not perceive them to be responsive to their concerns. An example of this is urban communities where police are unable to find cooperating witnesses to a crime because the witnesses believe that the police are unable to protect them or do their job correctly. This improved relationship also allows officers to perform more efficiently, safely in the field and rid the neighborhoods of the stigma they have about the police.

This study has also showed that more diversity in the agency the more open to reform they will be. According to the report completed by the Department of Justice / EEOC, “Research further suggests that increased diversity can make law enforcement agencies more open to reform, more willing to initiate cultural and systemic changes, and more responsive to the residents they serve. Some have pointed to increased diversity as a catalyst for reform, enabling officers and law enforcement leaders alike to become more introspective and reflective about problems in their departments. A more reflective and open-minded culture in an agency can help drive reform across a range of areas, including civilian oversight, community policing, and racial bias. In addition, while greater workforce diversity alone cannot ensure fair and effective policing, a significant – and growing – body of evidence suggests that diversity can have a positive influence on specific activities and practices of law enforcement agencies”.

Diversity should not alone just apply to minorities but also women. Women make up 51% of the US population, yet they only make up 12% of police officers nationwide. The benefits of female officers have already proven themselves time and time again. Research has shown that female police officers have a style of policing that uses less physical force, which lead to less excessive force complaints and less liability. It has also shown that they are better at de-escalating potentially violent confrontations with the public and communicate better than their fellow male officers. Because of these great benefits, Law Enforcement as a whole needs to make a substantial push for hiring more minorities and women into the workforce. However, this goal will not be easily obtained as many barriers exist that prevent this from happening.

Barriers to Diversity

Diversity is a problem that has plagued law enforcement for years and this is not the first push there has been to diversify the ranks. For the last 20 years departments across the nation have worked towards diversifying their workforce but have had little success. Even departments that have come under federal mandate to diversify have had trouble in meeting their goals. The Chicago Police Department (CPD) has been on a hiring frenzy the last 3 years trying to increase the size of the force to help deal with the increasing crime rate and the increasing retirement rate from the department.

The testing process itself can be barrier for the hiring of minorities and women. According to the Chicago Tribune, the department has had some success in getting a higher percentage of minorities applying for the department and taking the entrance exam, 38% of the applicants were black last time CPD held an exam prior to May 2018, but the number of black officers has dropped slightly. CPD officials say that although the number of black applicants have increased, they are not seeing that same number actually show up for the exam, the statistics from the December 2017 test showed that 44% of the black applicants did not show up for the test. City leaders believe that other parts of the hiring process unfairly screen out black applicants and that’s why they are discouraged from taking the exam. They believe that a change in education requirement and debt/credit policy would allow for more minorities to pursue the positions.

The biggest barrier that must be overcome is the poor relations between the community and law enforcement. This brings about a “catch 22”, diversity may be the answer to better community-police relations but the poor relations may also be the reason why law enforcement has been unable to become more diversified. In communities with poor relations, those tensions can bring about a level of distrust that discourages individuals from considering careers in law enforcement. Research shows that the current climate of distrust between law enforcement and at least some communities they serve as a significant barrier to the recruitment of a diverse police force. Poor relations can also bring about a stigma of becoming a police officer or law enforcement official because of the neighborhood you are from. The community may look poorly on a person and they may receive harsh treatment from their fellow community members if they pursue a career in law enforcement.

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Another barrier that must be overcome is the diversity gap that already exists in law enforcement. There have been pushes by agencies over the last 20 years, the ratio of minority officers compared to white is still very high. A study done USA Today that examined census data between 2000 and 2010 found the following:

  • Minority officers are concentrated in a few metropolises. More than one-third of 111,000 black officers worked in just 10 cities. One of every four of 107,000 Hispanic police worked in seven cities.
  • In 80 of 282 cities with more than 100,000 residents, the disparity between representation of blacks on the police force and in the community was greater than 10 percentage points. In 10 cities, including Buffalo, Detroit and Cleveland, the disparity surpassed 25 percentage points.
  • Large disparities exist for the Hispanic population in even more cities. In at least 125 cities, the disparity between Hispanics’ representation among police and the population was greater than 10 percentage points. In 37 cities, the gap surpassed 25 percentage points.
  • In all but a few of the cities with the widest disparities for blacks and Hispanics, most saw the gap remain about the same or widen from 2000 to 2010.

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