Achieving Diversity in Police Ranks No Easy Task

Allen G. Breed, MSN, September 14, 2014

When he took over as police chief last year in the St. Louis suburb of Maryland Heights, it didn’t take Bill Carson long to see he had a serious diversity problem. Of the department’s 79 sworn officers, just one was black and one Hispanic.

Carson quickly issued a plan that included advertising in the local black newspaper, outreach to groups like the NAACP and participation in job fairs at area colleges with large minority student bodies.

Of 81 applicants in his first hiring round, only four were black or Hispanic–and the only one qualified chose to stay with the department where he was already working.

“I think the community feels better about their police department if the police department maybe reflects the makeup of the community,” says Carson, whose city is 10 percent black and 8 percent Hispanic. “But that’s easier said than done.”

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Experts say many departments limit their searches too close to home, often don’t recruit in the right places and set criteria that can disproportionately exclude groups they hope to attract. And across the U.S., police are not just struggling to attract blacks and Hispanics, but members of immigrant groups where distrust and fear of authority run deep.

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Ferguson Chief Tom Jackson says a few black officers left in recent years for higher-paying jobs, and that the city has tried to recruit more. {snip}

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Part of the problem is policing “has never been made attractive for people of color,” says Malik Aziz, chairman and executive director of the National Black Police Association.

“When I got into the police department, I went to neighborhoods I had grown up in,” says Aziz, a deputy police chief in Dallas. “When people saw me, even people in my own family had very negative views of the police. I had to change this attitude.”

That’s why departments have to work even harder to entice qualified minorities, says Terrence Green, who was the only black officer when he became police chief in Lexington, South Carolina, eight years ago. African-Americans now comprise about 14 percent of the 50-person force–slightly higher than their representation in the city’s population.

“You’ve got to go out and fish for those people,” says Green, who found little interest among students in historically black colleges or schools that offered criminal justice degrees.

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg police department in North Carolina has stepped up its minority recruitment in recent years, reaching out as far as Puerto Rico. Three officers there were hired and a fourth will begin in October, says Capt. Stella Patterson, the department’s recruitment director.

Since 2012, the department has hired 25 Hispanic officers, including 10 women. It also offers a 5 percent pay increase to officers who speak Spanish, Laotian or Vietnamese. And it has tried to attract more black candidates, sending recruiters to historically black colleges.

Many communities go to great lengths to serve immigrant minorities.

In Minneapolis, the police department has about a half-dozen east African officers to work with the city’s large Somali community.

“They are among our best recruiting tools,” says spokesman John Elder. “These are people respected in the community.”

Over in St. Paul, Sgt. Paul Paulos says the department recently held its first East African Police Academy, with special programs for the kids, such staging mock investigations and taking fingerprints.

“I think it’s very important to start at a young age . . . It’s a long-term recruitment,” Paulos says.

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