Should Race be the Only Factor in Promoting Police Diversity?

Better racial representation in our police forces is important, but a would-be officer’s residence can also have a major impact on making on improving a department’s legitimacy in a community, argue two researchers.

Racial representation that reflects the diversity of a community is a key ingredient in improving relations between police and the communities they serve. This was one of the key recommendations in the final report of the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, released in 2015.

The rationale is simple: Officers whose demographic characteristics reflect the communities in which they serve are more likely to have an interest in promoting equity, and to understand the racial perspectives and dynamics, within those communities. But does a racially representative force actually lead to better policing outcomes?

Arthur Rad

Abdul Rad

In a review of James Forman Jr.’s “Locking Up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America,” Devon Carbado and L. Song Richardson highlight a surprising finding: Over-policing in black neighborhoods implicates not only white officers, but black officers as well. Due to racial anxiety induced by their white peers, black officers “may experience stronger incentives” than their white counterparts to over-police and employ violence in order to avoid looking “soft” on crime.

Thus, while diversifying the racial makeup of our police forces is a critical dimension of reform, it is not the only step we need to take. In addition to creating departments that are more racially reflective of the communities they serve, we need to properly conceptualize what a truly “reflective” police force should look like.

It may be the case that, when it comes to policing outcomes, fair geographic representation is just as important as fair racial representation.

It is no secret that police forces across the nation are predominantly white. Using Department of Justice survey data, one study found that this is the case even in majority black jurisdictions. Given this reality, some departments have doubled down on efforts to reform their recruitment practices so that their officers are more racially representative of the communities they serve.

While improving racial representation in our police forces is an important goal, we must also consider whether problems will persist if we designate race as the only necessary consideration when creating a force that reflects community demographics.

One element frequently neglected by departments that hire minority officers is residency.

Arthur Rizer

Arthur Rizer

Officers from outside jurisdictions — regardless of whether their race matches that of those they are sworn to protect — may not have a vested interest in policing equitably. On the other hand, recruits of any race who live inside the jurisdiction of a given department have an immediate connection in the communities they serve, which may help offset the pressure to over-police that some black officers experience.

Racial and geographic disparities in officer hiring are inextricably linked, meaning that solving one disparity could exacerbate the other. For instance, it may be the case that trying to recruit from a wider pool of racially underrepresented populations could result in the hiring of more recruits from areas outside a given department’s jurisdiction.

Departments thus need to be cognizant of both elements simultaneously. In other words, if the goal is to create not only a more representative police force, but a more effective one, departments need to consider race along with place of residence when recruiting new officers.

We should ensure that the individuals joining the police force have a stake in promoting equity and understand the communities within which they work, something that is not necessarily the case if race is the only factor considered.

The locales from which officers are hired represent a critical dimension that departments need to consider in the recruitment reform process. Otherwise, we may see “racially reflective” police forces that continue or exacerbate the problems we already have.

Abdul Rad is an associate fellow with the R Street Institute. Arthur Rizer, a former police officer and Department of Justice prosecutor, and a retired U.S. Army officer, is the Director of Criminal Justice and Civil Liberties at R Street. They welcome comments from readers.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Want Friendlier Cops? Hire More Blacks and Latinos, says Study

Does the race or ethnicity of police officers make a difference in how they behave on the streets of the neighborhoods they patrol—and how they see their jobs? A study released Friday suggests it does, and the authors—both from the University of Central Florida—say it supports arguments that law enforcement diversity is crucial to restoring trust and legitimacy in America’s police forces.

Does the race or ethnicity of police officers make a difference in how they behave on the streets of the neighborhoods they patrol—and how they see their jobs?

A Florida study released Friday suggests it does, although the authors admit their findings aren’t conclusive.

The study found “significant” variation among African-American, Latino and white police officers in West Palm Beach, FL, not only in their attitudes towards community policing, but in the way they regarded citizens who needed help—even in cases that did not involve serious crimes.

“Officers of color harbor much less negativity toward citizens and are more willing to see them as worthy of help, including for matters not involving serious crimes,” said the study, which also found that black and Latino officers displayed less cynicism about their jobs than their white colleagues.

The authors of the study, Jacinta M. Gau and Eugene A. Paoline III, both of the University of Central Florida, based their findings on responses to a survey administered during morning roll call over a week-long period in July 2016 to 149 beat cops—representing more than half the 228-member West Palm Beach Police Department.

Some 35% of the department’s uniformed personnel are black or Latino. While that was still not reflective of West Palm Beach’s population—the authors cited U.S. Census Bureau figures showing that over half the city’s 107,000 residents were persons of color— they argued that the racial breakdown of the city’s force reflected the nationwide trend towards increased diversity in hiring, and was substantial enough to make it the focus of their survey.

Although more than 200 officers actually participated in the study, the authors focused on beat cops whose responses they felt would more clearly reflect street knowledge and experience.

Their findings offered some statistical support for arguments by police reformers that diversity is crucial to improving police-community relations—particularly in at-risk neighborhoods where trust and confidence in law enforcement are at a low ebb.

The authors said the survey results suggested that black and Latino officers “may be uniquely important to fostering the reliable public support” that allows police to effectively protect public safety.

“A greater representation of minority officers may translate into better service provision and police–community relationships,” they said, noting that both black and Latino officers were more “favorably disposed than whites” towards partnerships with businesses and community groups in crime-prevention efforts.

While nearly all the officers shared similar opinions about the importance of the law-and-order aspects of their job (catching criminals), “Black and Latino officers seem to view citizens more favorably than white officers do (and) are significantly more likely to believe that victims deserve police assistance and that they are genuinely helping people when they answer calls for service.”

The authors made clear their study did not attempt to analyze the reasons for the disparity, and they notably avoided any suggestion that racist attitudes played any role in the differing responses.

They noted that other studies have shown that much of the cynicism ascribed to police was the result of attitudes learned from colleagues over time as they acquired more experience in their jobs—and as they dealt with commanders and supervisors.

The study did not provide more detailed data on the officers’ gender, experience or economic background, and the authors made clear that more studies of other law enforcement agencies around the country, conducted over longer periods of time, were essential before drawing any definitive conclusions about the influence of an officer’s race on his or her behavior.

But they said their findings underlined the need for police leaders and supervisors to pay more attention to keeping officers of “all races sensitized to the importance of their actions during face-to-face interactions with citizens,” which is also among the conclusions of former President Barack Obama’s 2015 Task Force on 21st Century Policing.

“Without calling white officers out,” the authors said, “(their) negative leaning seems to suggest a need for police leaders to pay attention to officers’ attitudes and the way in which they approach citizens.”

At a minimum, they said, their findings made clear that increasing the diversity of police forces should continue to be high on the agenda of police managers and policymakers.

Officers of color are increasing in number across the country.

The authors cited figures showing that the ranks of minority officers in municipal and county agencies nearly doubled between 1987 and 2013, from 15% to 27% .

A full copy of the study, which will be published in Justice Quarterly under the title “Officer Race, Role Orientations, and Cynicism toward Citizens,” is available here.

This summary was prepared by Stephen Handelman, executive editor of The Crime Report. Readers’ comments are welcome.

from https://thecrimereport.org