In my almost 21 years of working as a police officer, I have attended many different events for people in law enforcement. Countless hours have been spent in trainings, workshops, conferences, agency meetings, etc. While every one has been different, they are always the same in one way: the people who are police officers.
I have attended functions all over the country and somehow every room full of police officers always looks the same. No matter what kind of function I am at, the large majority of police officers are white males.
Most of the time I will see a few minorities and even fewer women officers, but certainly nowhere near the number of white males. Occasionally an event held in a larger city will have a little more diversity, but not nearly as much as one may think.
This is an issue that every community should be very concerned with, not only because of the current issues facing law enforcement, but because if the department focused on having a diverse police force, we wouldn’t be facing some of these issues.
Every police department should be as proportionally diverse as the community they police, not only in race, but in gender and age as well.
However, this simply isn’t the case at most law enforcement agencies. Don’t get me wrong, some agencies are doing a fantastic job of trying to recruit more females and minorities into the professions, but these are few and far between. Most departments put absolutely no effort into making their department into a mirror image of the community they serve, and this is what is at the root of some of these negative stories regarding police departments we have heard recently.
How can a white male officer, with a middle class upbringing, who is college educated, truly understand what life is like for an African American individual trying to make it with an income below the poverty level?
They can’t, but the problem is that they think they do and nothing could be further from the truth. This fact alone causes more issues than you would even believe. The officer may honestly be sympathetic, but they truly do not understand the dynamics of someone living in that situation, for perhaps their entire life. So when said officer gets dispatched to assist someone he has nothing in common with, things can be difficult for both parties involved right from the start. Furthermore, this lack of understanding is what turns a situation that could be easily handled into something much more. Maybe both the officer and the citizen are partially at fault, but I truly believe that if the right officer were dispatched to the call, some of the things we have been seeing would never have happen. Sadly, with most departments, having the right officer available for the call isn’t an option.
The perfect scenario would have an officer with a similar upbringing who could relate to the people needing help dispatched to the call, but unfortunately this often times isn’t the case. Let’s imagine that the aforementioned situation was a domestic dispute between a mother and daughter that were verbally arguing about the choices the daughter was making. Which of these two officers would be better to respond to the call: the officer I mentioned in the last paragraph, or a younger African American female who grew up three blocks over? Both could probably get the job done and settle the situation down, but who would be the best person for the job and have the most positive effect on everyone involved? The answer is easy, but because of the lack of efforts in recruiting a diverse police force, an officer like this probably isn’t even on the department.
Take a situation where the first officer is dispatched to call involving a family who has recently emigrated from Mexico making too much noise at a birthday party for their daughter’s 15th birthday party. Is he really going to understand why this is such a special occasion for the family? What this party is really about? Would it not be more advantageous to have the officer whose family emigrated from Mexico when he was a small boy show up to address the complaint? Of course it would!
Being able to relate to the people you are policing is paramount.
I could go on and on with situations like this, but every one should understand the importance of having a diverse police department. I am not limited enough to believe that having a diverse police force would solve every problem facing society, but I am saying that it would solve a lot of community relations issues for your department. Having the right makeup in your local police department would make all the difference in the world. Take any of the cases we have seen recently involving community relation issues with police departments and ask yourself that if the right officer were dispatched to the call, would things have turned out differently?
The solution is attracting more females and minorities into careers in law enforcement, but this isn’t always easy. One of the main reasons is because of the current lack of diversity and the general distrust of the police officers. Another issue facing police departments is the fact that society has generally viewed law enforcement as a male dominated profession. Until these opinions change, it is going to continue to be difficult to attract the candidates we want.
However, there is something we can do about it and it doesn’t take as much work as you think it would. Agencies and the officers that work for them just have to make the commitment to strong community policing and recruitment efforts. If time was spent truly building relationships with their communities these efforts would begin to pay awesome dividends. Once strong relationships are forged, recruiting a diverse police force becomes much easier. Once people trust the police, they are much more likely to want to work for them. Would you want to work for an entire group of people you didn’t trust?
I understand that the diversity issues go much, much, deeper than this. This piece is just a small portion of the puzzle, but an important one. As I said, some agencies really focus hard on these issues and I applaud them, we just need to get more of them on board. The more diverse our police forces are, the safer and better off everyone is.