Pamela Wood, Baltimore Sun, September 11, 2019
Despite promises of diversity, the Baltimore region’s major police departments remain overwhelmingly whiter than the communities they serve.
As Baltimore County faces a federal lawsuit over a test for police applicants because more African Americans fail, it’s not the only jurisdiction to struggle with recruiting nonwhite officers.
A review by The Baltimore Sun found that minority groups are underrepresented among police officers in Baltimore City and Baltimore, Howard and Anne Arundel counties.
In Baltimore County, 80% of sworn police officers are white, while whites are just 57% of the county’s overall population, according to census data. Similar disparities are found in other counties.
In Howard County, where only a slim majority of residents are white, 78% of police officers are white.
Anne Arundel’s police force is 82% white, while the county is 68% white as a whole.
Baltimore City’s police force is the most diverse in the region, at 45% white, 40% African American and 12% Hispanic. But whites are still overrepresented compared with the city population, which is just 28% white and 63% African American.
The U.S. Department of Justice sued Baltimore County last month, alleging that a test for police officer applicants the county used until recently was discriminatory. The test included material that’s irrelevant to police work and had the effect of screening out some minority applicants, the lawsuit alleges.
Alfred S. Titus Jr., associate professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said it’s important for police departments to be as diverse as their communities. It leads to better relationships with the community — and thus to better policing, he said.
Titus noted that police departments face challenges in luring qualified young people into the profession, particularly given concerns nationally about the deaths of people of color, especially young black men, at the hands of police.
Police departments in the region say they have adjusted their recruiting strategies and some of their hiring procedures in hopes of persuading people of color to apply. They’re more often visiting historically black colleges and universities, speaking at black churches and targeting their advertising to reach minority residents.
“The only money we really spend on recruiting is going after minority candidates,” said Anne Arundel County Police Chief Timothy J. Altomare.
But they say it’s hard to find people of any demographic who want to be a cop. Across the board, Baltimore area law enforcement leaders say they are getting fewer applicants overall for jobs as entry-level police officers and sheriff’s deputies.
In Anne Arundel, Altomare said his department has made progress since he became chief in 2014, when only 7.25% of the department’s officers were African American. That’s climbed to nearly 14%, but still shy of the county’s overall African American population of 18%.
Altomare said he still struggles to recruit Hispanic and Asian American applicants. On Tuesday, he appointed a Latino liaison officer he hopes can build relationships in Anne Arundel’s Latino communities.
But he says he’s at a loss in trying to recruit applicants from the county’s growing Korean American community.
The department’s recruiters are trying some new tactics, setting up a booth at the Towson Town Center mall once a month and partnering with Planet Fitness gyms, hoping to reach a diverse crowd that’s interested in physical fitness.
Baltimore City Police are grappling with a shortage of hundreds of patrol officers that officials say has made it difficult to stem the city’s relentless violence. The city since April 2017 has been operating under a consent decree reached after a Justice Department investigation found that officers routinely made unconstitutional stops, searches and arrests disproportionately affecting African Americans. Under the decree, the department must demonstrate that it is carrying out a recruitment plan to attract — and keep — minorities and women.
Besides recruiting, law enforcement leaders have limited leeway in how much they can adjust the hiring process because many requirements are set by the state.
Under the new rule, departments can accept applicants who have previously used marijuana, so long as they haven’t used in the past three years. It replaced a prior 1970s-era rule that banned applicants who had used marijuana more than 20 times in their lives, or five times since turning 21 years old.
Gahler said he has made numerous changes to try to reach more nonwhite applicants, to no avail.
Harford’s population is majority white — 76% — but the sheriff’s office remains much whiter, at 93%.
Gahler said he has difficulty filling his academy classes with qualified recruits of any racial background. And he predicts he’ll continue to struggle with diversity.