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?
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.
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.
Several thousand officers have been trained in “mindfulness” in cities like Dallas, Boston and Seattle, as well as towns across Oregon, California and Wisconsin. Proponents champion the practice as a way to treat the high rates of post-traumatic stress disorder among police and reduce excessive use of force.
Richard Goerling addresses a room of first responders, prison guards, and military members wearing gym clothes, sitting on yoga mats. “So you’re here for some hippie-bullshit mindfulness training,” he says, reports Pacific Standard magazine.
In a conference-room-turned-meditation center near Portland, Or., Goerling asks everyone to close their eyes and imagine their breath on the tip of their nose.
A police officer himself, Goerling is sensitive to the skepticism that cops might bring to mindfulness. In an eight-hour training, he introduces them to neuroscientific findings on the effects of mindful meditation—how it can lower cortisol, a hormone related to stress—while also teaching them meditation practices.
Goerling is one of a growing number of leaders in law enforcement who envision meditation as part of the future of policing.
Several thousand officers have been trained in cities like Dallas, Boston and Seattle, as well as towns across Oregon, California and Wisconsin. Proponents champion the practice as a way to limit stress, treat the high rates of post-traumatic stress disorder among police, and even reduce excessive use of force.
“I absolutely believe that mindfulness training is the foundation for any successful police reform and transformation,” Goerling says. “It’s critical.”
Recent studies suggest that mindfulness can reduce stress and curb aggression among law enforcement officers. Many of these studies rely on self-reporting and wishy-washy measurement methods.
When it comes to some of the most violent behavior among police, including incidents associated with racial bias, there is little evidence that meditation makes any difference.
“There is a risk that these kinds of training programs, no matter how well intentioned, will only provide the illusion of police reform rather than getting at the structural forces that drive disrespectful and aggressive over-policing,” says sociologist Alex Vitale of Brooklyn College and author of the book The End of Policing.
The crisis in U.S. policing often begins at the recruitment stage. A TCR special report examines how police departments are trying to change the way they hire new officers, beginning with locating candidates who care about the communities they’ll serve.
Officer-involved shootings continue to be a major problem for police departments across the country. According to the Fatal Force database compiled by the Washington Post, 3,743 people have been shot and killed by police since 2015, with 746 of those deaths occurring in 2018 alone.
While a number of these incidents may be the result of officers responding to legitimate threats to their safety, and the safety of others, many still point to a pattern of violent and irresponsible reactions to situations that should have ended differently for everyone.
One solution has been to train officers in de-escalation and conflict resolution techniques, an option tried in major departments such as New York and Seattle. But increasingly, members of the criminal justice community say police need to take a much closer look at who they’re hiring, and how those men and women are being selected for a job that puts people’s lives in their hands.
“The traditional police hiring process really tends to eliminate people; it’s not designed to hire the best,” said Tom Wilson, director of the Police Educational Research Forum’s Center for Applied Research and Management, in an interview with The Crime Report.
According to GoLawEnforcement.com, an online employment resource for nationwide law enforcement, the standard hiring process consists of a written exam—usually multiple choice—an oral board interview, a physical agility test, a polygraph, a psychological exam, a background investigation, and a medical exam. Each candidate completes each exam and then moves on to the next.
Wilson, a 25-year veteran of the Anne Arundel County Police Department, compares it to a “funnel.”
“You start at the top end of a funnel, and you get all these people to apply and then maybe by the time you actually hire somebody you whittle it down to one out of ten, twenty, thirty, forty.”
The “funnel” only serves to weed out those who don’t make it to the next step. Most departments then rely on their training academies to further identify who has the desired and necessary skills they are looking for, and who doesn’t.
“If you don’t pass mustard in the academy, if you’re not able to pass certain requirements and tests, then you will be eliminated from the process,” said Wilson.
But police academies aren’t always reliable filters. With police departments around the country facing high demands for new officers, some cities’ academies are graduating people who are both ill-prepared and ill-suited for the job ahead.
Cities like Chicago and Baltimore, for example, who are under pressure to hire thousands of new officers, have been criticized for the quality of their new hires. According to the Chicago Tribune, the Chicago Police Department’s academy graduated more than 97 percent of its recruits over a four year period. According to a report in the Baltimore Sun, a third of Baltimore police recruits set to graduate lack even a basic understanding of the laws governing constitutional policing.
“As long as you have (hiring) quotas, you have targets, and when you have targets you’re eliminating good people,” said Stan Mason, host of the radio program Behind the Blue Curtain, in an interview with TCR.
A 25-year veteran of the Waco, Tx., Police Department, Mason was part of the selection process in his agency for 15 years. He points out that for most departments, and especially those in major municipalities, lowering standards to meet numbers begins at the hiring level.
As a result, even positive efforts like diversification can yield poor candidates when selection comes down to just filling required slots as soon as possible.
“When you have to meet numbers and you get down to the last two black guys, neither of them might be worth a thing,” said Mason. “But, one of them is going to get in there because you gotta fill those books.”
Mason recommends that cities and their departments focus instead on better understanding the demographics of their communities, stressing a need for departments that strive for a cultural diversity that mirrors the demographics of the cities or towns they police and, as a result, are better equipped to provide the kind of officers those communities really need.
It’s a necessity that Wilson agrees is long overdue for recognition.
“It’s time we start recognizing that different people bring different skills to this job, and we need that diverse background,” said Wilson, who adds that even just changing where and how departments hire those people is a step in the right direction.
In the wake of low unemployment rates, negative public scrutiny, and a shift in what younger generations want in a career, developing new and innovative hiring practices to fill the ranks of police departments is critical.
A 2017 national survey by the Center for State and Local Government Excellence found that governments are having more trouble hiring police than any other category of personnel. According to Wilson, this may be due, in part, to an outdated hiring strategy.
“It’s not the old standby that we go to the local colleges, or state colleges, or military bases,” said Wilson. “We need to start branching out a little bit.”
Some departments are.
In 2017, the Michigan State Police put full-time recruiters in the field, made community partnerships with the Black Caucus Foundation and America Corps, visited churches that recommended candidates, and launched an aggressive social media campaign with videos posted on Facebook and YouTube. Their most recent academy class, set to graduate in 2019, is the most diverse they’ve had in 20 years.
In Dallas, Chief U. Renee Hall launched a program that seeks to hire recent high school graduates as supplemental public service officers who will receive college tuition reimbursement and, upon program completion and reaching hiring age, become eligible to attend the police academy.
Its goals include attracting a new pool of recruits from different areas in the communities that the police serve and thereby strengthening trust.
However, Mason insists that innovative hiring campaigns like these, while positive efforts, are only successful if the departments know the people they’re serving and choose the right officer for the right community.
“You have to understand your city,” said Mason.
“You can’t hire two Blacks, 17 whites, and one Hispanic and say, ‘wow, look at us: we got more people.’ You just have more resources. If the resources can’t be applied effectively, what good is it?”
And for officers like Mason, making sure that departments are hiring people who know the communities they are policing is essential to ensuring everyone’s safety and understanding.
A 2017 report by the Pew Research Center found that in a national survey of nearly 8,000 police officers, 72 percent considered knowledge of the people, places, and culture of the areas they work extremely important to doing the job effectively.
However, many departments today find a lot of their officers live outside the communities they serve.
Does Location Matter?
According to The New York Times, in cities like Baton Rouge, Pittsburgh and Minneapolis, a majority of officers don’t live within the city limits. In fact, data journalism outlet FiveThirtyEight reports that only 15 of the nation’s largest police forces even require residency for their officers at all. As a result, the number of officers policing communities they actually know is rapidly dwindling, creating greater risk for potentially deadly mistakes.
“If you have a white officer, who has never been around black people, is this guy going to fit in Detroit, Chicago, or Baltimore?” asked Mason.
“This guy can’t handle it; it’s culture shock.”
Faced with this reality, finding the best officers can’t just be about finding the people that culturally or ethnically best suit a specific community.
For David Harris, a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh and a leading national authority on racial profiling, it must also be about finding the people who are able to make a connection with, and adapt to, any community’s culture.
The first step begins with paying attention to how a candidate behaves at home.
“If I’m recruiting people, I want to know what they do in their own community,” said Harris, a criminal justice author who has also worked as a professional trainer for law enforcement agencies throughout the country.
According to Harris, finding men and women who demonstrate a concrete commitment to the community in which they live, even if it’s not the one they’re applying to serve, is essential to finding out what kind of police officer they will be in the future.
“Do they coach Little League? Do they work at a soup kitchen? Volunteer for meals on wheels? Anything,” said Harris.
“Show me that they are people who care about that sort of thing.”
By finding such community-involved and adaptable individuals, Harris believes that departments can move closer to the more empathetic and conscientious officers that people want. And the departments that will have the best luck in finding these kind of men and women are the ones who reach out to those very same communities and ask, “what do you want.”
“They went to the community and asked them what kind of police department and officers they wanted,” said Harris.
“The people didn’t come up with physically strong, willing to run into a burning building. What they came up with was good communicator, honest, having integrity, being able to talk to people. Those were the things that the community was interested in. What any community would be interested in.”
For Harris, this kind of cooperation and communication should be the norm, especially during the hiring process. For example, by including civilians and members of the community in police department’s review boards, which interview candidates on their qualifications and character, departments may have a better chance of improving the whole process and veering away from hiring the kind of command and control police officers traditionally sought after in the past by boards comprised mainly of a department’s sworn officers.
In fact, according to the Report on 21st Century Policing, released under the Obama administration, civilian involvement with local law enforcement agencies is essential to improving the state of policing in this country. And while police popularity may be low, a 2017 study by the Urban Institute found that large percentages of people living in the most challenging areas of cities like Pittsburgh, Minneapolis, and Birmingham, also professed a desire to work with police to solve neighborhood issues.
Community Involvement in Hiring
“A civilian group, or the community more broadly, can and should certainly be helping an agency determine what its priorities are,” agreed Seth Stoughton, an assistant law professor at the University of South Carolina School of Law, and a former Tallahassee, Fl., police officer, in an interview with TCR.
A member of the Columbia, S.C., Police Department’s civilian advisory council, Stoughton explained that, as part of the department’s inclusive selection process, a member of his council always attends both police applicant interviews and officer disciplinary hearings.
Enjoying an equal voice and vote alongside the police chiefs and commanders in the room, these men and women can ask questions and provide feedback on a candidate that helps to better decide if they are the best choice for the job.
Another example of this kind of successful cohesion is Washington D.C. where, according to PBS.org, the Office of Police Complaints (OPC) has won praise for an effectiveness that is based on community outreach, independence, and authority to approve policy and training recommendations to the department.
But while the OPC may be an example of a best-case scenario when it comes to organizing civilian involvement and cohesion with police in the hiring process, Stoughton warns that no two departments are alike. Things like independence and authority are hard to come by, he said.
“The devil is in the details,” Stoughton observed. “How do you pick which civilian or set of civilians is going to be involved in this? How much say does the civilian have?”
In a country with roughly 18,000 different law enforcement agencies, finding the right answer to these questions is no easy task. A report by the National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement (NACOLE) states that the largest impediment to establishing approaches to civilian oversight are the wildly different practices of any two jurisdictions, which can depend on a variety of political, cultural, and social influences.
Inconsistency of this kind can lead to board members being selected by the chief of police or a political official, a biased situation that some would consider no different than having the chief select an officer.
In addition, further damage can be done by the civilian members themselves, who, according to a study by the ColumbiaJournal on Law and Social Problems, can not only display bias towards the department that hired them, but could also be overly deferential to the police because of a lack of experience.
Shortcomings like these are exemplified by cities like Seattle and Albuquerque where, despite having established civilian oversight and apparent transparency in the past, they find themselves facing an uphill battle to improve their police departments.
In Chicago, a debate continues over whether civilian groups should oversee police at all. While it may be a small step in the right direction, civilian involvement is far from the only solution to finding today’s best, brightest and most empathetic police candidates.
“I think civilian involvement in the hiring process is an easy thing for most agencies and jurisdictions to do,” said Stoughton.
But he added, “I don’t think it entirely or substantially solves some of the problems that various agencies in various communities have experienced.”
When it comes to proper hiring, one of the largest of those problems are known as “gypsy cops.”
Recently, communities in Cleveland were outraged to find out that Timothy Loehman, the Cleveland officer who shot and killed 12-year old Tamir Rice, had been hired by the nearby Belair, Ohio police department on a part-time basis.
Despite losing his job in Cleveland for failing to disclose that the Independence, Ohio police department had previously found him unfit to be a member of their own department, Loehman was also permitted to apply at departments in Euclid and RTA. Though he has recently quit amid public pressure, he was still hired in Belair despite his very public and questionable reputation.
“Most would assume that if police departments knew what happened with an officer at a prior department you wouldn’t hire them,” said Roger Goldman, a Callis Family Professor of Law at Saint Louis University School of Law, to TCR.
“That is absolutely not the case.”
Instead, police departments around the country have been rehiring officers with terrible records for years. And while some departments may look into a former officers past before hiring, they are too often either not digging deep enough or are willing to ignore prior misconduct and hire people who are a risk in the face of both state laws and department budgetary issues.
“State law can get in the way of screening officers who come from prior service,” said Stoughton.
According to the Washington Post, some states shield police personnel records, including firings, from public records, while state laws passed in the 1960s and 1970s allow police some form of collective bargaining rights. Thus, police unions are able to appeal any discipline taken against an officer and, more often than not, have them reinstated.
The process is lengthy, complicated and costly and, as a result, many departments prefer to avoid liability altogether and only provide a former employee’s start and end date.
“One agency might not want to tell another agency exactly why an officer no longer works there, because they might be afraid of a defamation lawsuit,” added Stoughton.
On the other end, Goldman said that police departments, especially smaller departments, will often choose to roll the dice on a former officer with a poor record just to save money, rather than spend what they may not have in order to train a completely new hire.
It’s a decision that can cost lives.
“What got me started in all of this was a cop at a St. Louis, Mo., department who was playing Russian roulette with suspects, and despite that was hired knowingly by another department that couldn’t afford a better cop,” said Goldman, who adds that the officer later ended up fatally shooting an unarmed suspect in the back.
‘Desperate for Bodies’
“Some departments are so desperate for bodies that they’re willing to hire anyone.”
But Goldman explains that this pattern can be broken by taking sole authority for hiring out of the hands of local departments and sharing it with the state.
For the last 40 years he has successfully crusaded for state laws that allow for decertification of police in instances of misconduct. Noting that state licensing boards already exist for occupations such as lawyers, teachers, doctors, and even plumbers, he argues that the policing field needs this same type of oversight.
Since New Mexico became the first state to get the authority to revoke licenses in 1960, 46 states have followed suit and established commissions with the power to decertify officers and a total of 30,000 officers have been decertified, according to an article from The Guardian.
However, four states—California, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Rhode Island—still lack these kinds of regulatory bodies. Twenty of those states that do have the power can only decertify if the officer has been convicted of a crime, according to The Atlantic. Even some states that have the power to decertify often fail to utilize it, such as Louisiana, which The Advocatereports has only decertified six officers in the last 12 years.
While the issue of decertification is currently only an individual state concern, when plagued with these kinds of inconsistencies Goldman states that it may not be able to succeed without federal involvement.
“These are local matters, but you need federal oversight to make sure that individual departments come up to standards,” said Goldman.
Federal involvement of the Department of Justice (DOJ), in a fashion similar to the consent decrees issued after Ferguson in Missouri, Seattle, and Chicago, could help to motivate state efforts by denying funding to departments that fail to comply with set guidelines. In addition, where there is currently no national database for recording decertified officers, activity by the DOJ could require one.
“Just how we now have the National Practitioner Databank for healthcare professionals, that has any disciplinary action that has been taken against the practitioner run out of Health and Human Services; so too if a police officer goes across state lines a licensing board would be able to access a federal databank,” said Goldman.
But, so far, the feds have done very little.
Since 2003, states have been required to submit data on officer-involved killings of civilians to the DOJ, but many have repeatedly failed to cooperate, with little to no resulting penalties, reports NBC.com. The only existing resource for recording decertified officers is the National Decertification Index, an independent databank that 45 states submit to and which accounts for 25,000 of the total 30,000 recorded since 1960.
In addition, the current administration has stated that it considers policing a matter of exclusively local oversight, going so far as to suggest cutting funding for the DOJ’s Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) program, which provides information and funding to advance the practice of community policing in departments nationally, a major blow to a seemingly already faulty system.
Yet, step by step, state by state, there are pockets of improvement.
Colorado recently passed a law stating that former officers cannot be hired by another department unless they waive any nondisclosure agreements that they may have made. New York, through regulation, has had the power to decertify since 2016, and Hawaii has recently enacted a decertification bill. In the ongoing effort to find the best possible officers, decertification helps prevent departments from hiring anything less and holds them to the same standards as other professions that are not given a badge and a gun.
“Like we do with lawyers, we can do with cops: take away their license, probation, suspension, so forth,” said Goldman.
“Policing requires the same kind of oversight that all these other occupations have.”
Peter Sarna, a 40-year police veteran and former chief of the Oakland Police Department, thinks that ideas like this are sorely lacking in the policing field overall.
“In policing, thinking doesn’t go very deep and it doesn’t go very far. It doesn’t look out over the horizon to see what the long term effects might be,” said Sarna in an interview with TCR.
A nationally recognized expert in police training and use of force, Sarna believes that this absence of foresight has not only led to circumstances like the gypsy cops, but also trapped policing in an outdated and unrealistic performance model: one that expects all their officers to be able to perform a variety of different task specific skill sets, at any given time, and to be able to switch rapidly between those skill sets depending on the task.
In addition to the basic tenets of the job, and the everyday potential for danger, police officers today are now called upon to handle a variety of new situations that they were before rarely called upon to deal with. From policing the mentally ill to performing disciplinary actions at schools, all while dealing with an increasingly popularized negative image of policing in general, police today are wearing a lot more hats—perhaps even too many.
When it comes to hiring and selecting, expecting to find large amounts of people who can perform all these duties effectively might be a tall order.
“Maybe you have 1 percent of your cops that you can recruit who are stars,” said Sarna.
“They have the mindsets, they can move quickly among different types of calls, they can catch bad guys, solve family fights, they can do spectacular work. But they’re a small percentage of the workforce.”
Looking for the ‘Renaissance Cop’
According to Sarna, this model of a “renaissance cop” ignores a stark reality of the profession: it requires a multiplicity of tasks performed by a variety of officers to succeed. While the goals of having de-escalation skills, empathy, and conflict resolution abilities in every officer are important and necessary to pursue, he insisted that there will always be those officers who are better at one aspect of the job than the other.
Instead of wasting time searching for new hires based on an idealized model of the perfect cop, he believes that the whole policing profession needs to be restructured and that police officers should be selected for specific positions based on the strengths they develop and bring to the job before and after training.
It is an idea that mirrors the kind of division of labor found in most hospitals today.
“You go to a hospital and there’s a doctor for every part of the body,” said Sarna. “It’s extensive.”
This kind of division of labor is more than necessary in the policing field, where the types of calls for assistance vary widely. And a recognition that certain types of calls warrant specialization and demand certain skill sets has begun to grow, especially when concerning the handling of the mentally ill.
In cities like New York and Chicago, departments have started Crisis Intervention Training (CIT) programs and created teams of trained officers who respond to any call involving the mentally ill or those in distress.
Sarna, who served as a rank-and-file officer in Oakland before becoming chief, pointed out that this type of specialization was attributable to much of Oakland’s success at that time. And though the “warrior vs. guardian” debate continues to define how officers are chosen, he insists that understanding the need for both, and how to properly assign them, is the key to a more successful, and safer, style of policing.
But first, departments need to start asking themselves some tough questions.
“Do we need to specifically select a top tier of cops who are crime fighters and can do it well within the law?” asked Sarna.
“And do we also need ‘community service officers’ who can handle a lot of the tedious, mundane things that need to be done to work well?”
For Capt. Victor Davalos, Commanding Officer of the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) Recruitment and Employment Division, there are no easy answers to these questions. He argues that a department’s ability to implement this kind of overarching specialization depends on specific factors.
“It’s important to know the differences, limitations and environment that every department operates in,” said Davalos.
Though it may be an option for larger departments, he notes that specialization is a luxury that most smaller departments, and even medium-sized departments like the LAPD, can’t afford.
“Unlike, for example, New York, which has about 30,000 officers, we only have approximately 10,000,” Davalos told TCR.
“We have to do a lot more with a lot less.”
And while the LAPD does have a program similar to the CIT teams in New York, where their officers are partnered with mental health specialists and respond to mental health calls together, and can also utilize a SWAT team to respond to very dangerous and high risk situations, Davalos points out that, in any department, there are a lot of calls to service in between those two dimensions.
“We really need officers that are able to respond to all types of situations,” said Davalos.
In order to find them, he and the LAPD feel that, rather than trying to restructure the whole department, a lot of progress can be made by simply making adjustments to policies and procedures that would make hiring easier and better suited to the times. And, for some departments, one such adjustment that is currently up for discussion is the use of marijuana.
Should Past Marijuana Use Disqualify?
In the past, drug use of any kind was considered an automatic disqualifier for service. But as marijuana laws become more relaxed around the country, with Business Insider reporting recreational use legal in 10 states and medicinal consumption legal in 33, police departments are following suit. In places like Chicago, Denver, Portland, police departments are relaxing their policies on past marijuana use in an effort to attract candidates who would otherwise be passed over.
Davalos says the LAPD is following suit.
“As those laws continue to evolve, so must we, so we remain current and we’re not using outdated guidelines,” said Davalos.
In addition, the LAPD and other departments are also reconsidering disqualifying applicants based on credit checks and certain criminal records, both of which, according to a report from the U.S. Department of Justice and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, disproportionately impact racial minority candidates who are more likely, for multiple reasons, to have low credit scores and more contact with criminal justice in their communities.
By adjusting certain aspects of selection in this way, departments ideally have a chance at widening the pool of applicants they have to choose from.
This was the case in Philadelphia where, in 2017, after lowering the college credit requirements and raising the hiring age, the police department experienced a 20 percent increase in applications from the roughly 5,000 annually that they were accustomed to. More applicants arguably allows departments to be more selective in their hiring and take the time to find the best possible candidate, opening a pathway up to those most needed that gets them through the hiring process much faster for much less.
“If I’m trying to process 10,000 people, many of whom are unqualified, that is a harder drain on my resources than if I’m processing 7,000 candidates who are more qualified,” said Aram Kouyoumdjian, Assistant General Manager (Public Safety) of the City of Los Angeles Personnel Department, the entity that handles testing and produces the lists of eligible candidates certified to be hired for the LAPD’s final review, to TCR.
“It actually makes the process easier for them and for us.”
According to Kouyoumdjian, this more streamlined process, and resulting influx of officers, has allowed his department, which handles every aspect of hiring but the police department interviews, to fine-tune testing to focus more on reading comprehension and communication skills, adjust physical exams to be more in line with what is done in the academy, and take a much harder look at applicants backgrounds than ever before.
“It’s about trying to get more qualified candidates into the process from the get go, as opposed to just testing willy-nilly and spending time screening people out,” said Kouyoumdjian.
Yet some in law enforcement remain concerned that changes such as these could potentially have dangerous results.
A 2016 article for policeone.com warns that a person with poor credit history may be susceptible to bribery, someone convicted of a previous crime may reoffend, or a person who can’t meet physical standards may jeopardize the lives of others.
And in Texas, ksat.comreports that the San Antonio Police Officers Association recently argued that changing the standards for department hires may lower the quality of men and women hired for the job rather than improve it.
Despite these concerns, Kouyoumdjian insists that changing the standards by no means equates to lowering them.
“Our responsibility is hiring officers who can deliver on all fronts.”
“We want officers who can, when circumstances call for it, perform the job of law enforcement, but (who will) also be able to recognize who needs protection and who needs accountability.”
However, although this kind of clear-sighted and optimistic approach may be necessary to finding today and tomorrow’s best police candidates, it might not be enough to tackle the many real hurdles the industry has to overcome.
While practices such as involving the community in hiring, diversifying applicants, decertifying lateral hires, restructuring division of labor, and updating and evolving hiring to suit the times represent some of the best efforts being made today to find the officers we need tomorrow, men like Peter Sarna still remain unconvinced.
“Are we fooling ourselves? Can we actually get people in large numbers, who can perform full spectrum policing? Or is it impossible?”
The answer to those questions may determine the future of 21st century policing in America.
Isidoro Rodriguez is a contributing writer to The Crime Report. He welcomes readers’ comments.
In a problem that reflects a national trend, Hartford, Conn., cites the robust economy and tarnished reputation of law enforcement in a dearth of applicants for police jobs there. Meanwhile, Baltimore is preparing to launch a campaign to attract a new generation of recruits–“millennial, local, minority, female”–to fill 90 officer vacancies.
Whether drawn to other jobs in a robust economy or discouraged by growing scrutiny of law enforcement, fewer people in Connecticut are applying to become police officers, reports the Hartford Courant. Police leaders across the state and nation say applicant pools have shrunk, in some cases by more than half, in the past 20 years. Many blame what they say is the media’s focus on officers’ violent, sometimes fatal, confrontations with suspects. “We’re very honorable and very professional, but the way we’re portrayed is not that anymore,” Manchester police department recruiting supervisor Sgt. Jamie Taylor said. “The police used to be heroes in blue; now we’re killers in blue.” Police administrators also cite low unemployment as a main factor in withering applicant pools. Young people can find more lucrative work with far less stress, they say, and the long hiring process–128 days for officers, compared with 23 across all job sectors, according to one study–also discourages some applicants.
The most recent issue of the Police Executive Research Forum newsletter highlighted discussions at a May 31 meeting in Nashville, where law enforcement leaders talked about the difficulty of recruiting and diversifying their departments. Meanwhile, the Baltimore Sun reports that officials there want to hire a marketing firm to help attract “millennial, local, minority, female, and ‘ideal’ candidates” to fill 90 officer vacancies. “The BPD has an opportunity to recruit the next generation of ideal patrol officers for 21st century policing in Baltimore, and it aims to attract diverse, local talent through a targeted digital social media marketing campaign,” the request for proposals says.
Increasing numbers of females now serve in the senior ranks of US policing, and they are slowly changing law enforcement practices across the country. But there’s still a long way to go before women cops can achieve full equality with their male peers, a University of Illinois professor argues in a new book.
A barbed comment by a soon-to-retire Illinois State Police lieutenant gave Cara Rabe-Hemp both the title and the theme of her new book.
Observing that the lieutenant, who had joined the force in the 1980s, was just completing a 25-year career in the policing, Rabe-Hemp asked her, “Do you think anything has slowed you down?”
“Policing is a boys’ club,” came the quick reply, “And if you haven’t noticed, I’m not a boy.”
Rabe-Hemp, a professor in the Department of Criminal Justice Sciences at Illinois State University, set about exploring the complex and frustrating reality behind those words. Her book, “Thriving in an All-Boys Club: Female Police and Their Fight for Equality,” focuses not only on the careers of women who have been trailblazers in what is traditionally considered a “male” occupation─but on why, like the Illinois police lieutenant, they still feel like outsiders in police culture.
In a conversation with TCR’s Megan Hadley, Rabe-Hemp described how law enforcement agencies in the 1990s and 2000s began to open their doors to greater numbers of women, how in the process female officers have changed the practice of law enforcement across the U.S., and why—despite the changed climate─recruitment of women appears to be declining.
THE CRIME REPORT: You write that police culture in the 1980s was “accepting and protective of sexually harassing and discriminatory behavior.” What has changed?
CARA RABE-HEMP: Women in the 1980s faced a lot of sexual harassment and discrimination, but what was interesting about that was they expected it. So most of the women I interviewed from the 1980s knew when they went into policing that it was going to be a male domain. They knew they would have an uphill battle in being accepted.
One of my favorite stories is about a male officer who insisted on opening the car door for a female because that was a part of the culture at the time. In the 1990s, there were so many more female police officers, and there was a change in the culture. Women were taking on many more responsibilities in policing and in the work culture and things got better.
What I was really surprised about was the women who entered policing in the 2000s. I assumed that we would find harassment had fallen off the radar, but that has not been the case. Women in the 2000s describe fairly heinous experiences with sexual harassment and discrimination. Covert, yes, but still experiences we would associate with the 1980s. I think (that’s) one of the reasons that the number of women in policing is actually starting to drop now. We’re not re-hiring female police the same way we once did. Women are again finding themselves in a token status and really struggling through that.
TCR: One significant problem you highlight in the book is mental health and, in particular, the difficulty officers have coming forward to talk about depression, anxiety, and PSTD. They see this as a sign of weakness. Do women play a role in changing that perception?
RABE-HEMP: We know there is a potential for women (and people of color) to bring about change in police culture. Women have different socialization experiences than men do, and at the end of the day, we raise women differently than we raise men. Those experiences can influence how they do the work that they do.
We know when women enter organizations, they challenge the way things have been done. This results new policy and new, creative ways of problem-solving. In policing, we see this illustrated by organizations with female leadership and greater female representation. Women are more likely to have family medical leave or light duty, maternity leave, and more likely to have inclusive leadership in their organizations. Women entering police organizations have the potential to change how police do their jobs on the street.
TCR:So why have the numbers of women police officers decreased?
RABE-HEMP: There are a couple of things that we know are holding women back. There is a problem with recruitment. There is also a problem with retention. Those are two different problems. Recruitment in policing emphasizes upper body strength, and typically men win that battle. Biologically, we know that upper body strength is a way in which women are disadvantaged, specifically in recruitment practices. But here is the frustrating part about that: there is no research that connects upper body strength with the ability to police. We know this because most police agencies don’t require the repetition of that test. It’s not necessary to do the job, but because of that rule, we see a lot of women disqualified right off the bat because of recruitment policies for policing.
We also see continued resistance to women in police culture. Today we still have police agencies who have never had a female officer, ever. In those agencies the resistance to women can be pretty strong. Finally, police agencies have to start looking at family-friendly policies, they have to follow the business world that have women returning to work in mass. Police families would be much more accommodated if we looked at family-friendly policies in policing.
TCR: What kinds of recruitment tactics would draw more women into policing?
RABE-HEMP: The number-one predictor for having a diverse pool is spending money on recruitment. Agencies that put their money where their mouth is and lay out a recruitment strategy for hiring diverse applicants actually end up with a much more diverse pool. There are manuals out there for police agencies who are looking to diversify. One thing that is helpful is having diverse recruitment tools─(for instance) flyers that show people of color and women doing different jobs.
TCR: The lack of trust between police and community is a major issue in law enforcement today. Can female police officers play a role in changing that?
RABE-HEMP: In the book, the point I am trying to make is that we know we are in the middle of a legitimacy crisis in policing. Making police agencies more representative of the communities they serve could be a solution to this crisis. As police departments look for a new breed of police officers more likely to use communication skills and problem-solving skills, people who define policing through service to community members, the evidence that women bring many of these positive benefits to policing make it an argument to take a better look.
We know that women are great communicators, and they are less likely to use force. So their increased representation in policing means more peaceful citizen interactions. They are less likely to be named in citizen complaints and lawsuits, which saves agencies and taxpayers millions of dollars each year. Female officers are more likely to take (seriously) reports of domestic violence and sexual assault cases. Women bring positive benefits to policing, and they have the potential to alter the way police officers police.
TCR: Do you need to strike a balance between male and female police officers?
RABE-HEMP: Yes, definitely. More than just a balance. My book celebrates the positive attributes of female police officers but it in no way takes away from celebrating the success of male officers. The argument I’m making in the book is that women make a unique contribution to policing as well.
TCR: How can female officers help deescalate police violence?
RABE-HEMP: I think the big point is communication. There are a lot of stories in the book about how female police officers talk suspects into cop cars instead of going hands on. The suspect will literally put themselves in the back of the car. So increasing communication skills and problem-solving skills is one option.
TCR: One interesting point you make is that it may actually be safer for female police. You write that “sex norms may also dictate that potentially violent citizens may feel it is heroic to attack a policeman but cowardly to attack a policewoman.” Can you expand?
RABE-HEMP: In our analysis of police-citizen interactions, we found that women were at no greater risk than male officers at being assaulted except in a very small subset of cases, and in those cases, the perpetrator was involved in domestic violence and alcohol. In those situations, women were more likely to be assaulted or attacked by a community member, but other than that, there was no greater risk between male and female officers.
TCR: You discuss at length the important role women play in addressing crime victims, specifically, victims of sexual assault and domestic abuse. You quote one patrol officer stating “I don’t want the guys to tell the girl she deserved to be raped” and further re victimize the individual? Should women be the ones to respond to these calls of sexual abuse?
RABE-HEMP: This is a great debate within the research world, and the truth is I don’t have the answer to that. Recent research [from the University of Illinois in Chicago showed] that agencies with more female officers were (more) likely to take cases of sexual assault, and they were also more likely to clear those cases. One [possible] reason: when agencies look like the communities they police, citizens are more likely to report those crimes to the police. So it might just be having that image for the community changes the likelihood of them reporting crimes.
We need more research before we can answer that question. But right now, what it looks like is having agencies that are more representativem and having more female officers, may encourage community members to come forward, especially with crimes of sexual assault or domestic violence.
TCR: What do you think the future holds for women in policing?
RABE-HEMP: In the book. I tried to not shy away from the challenges faced by women police, but those obstacles are no match for the women who wear the uniform today. I met the bravest women who are absolutely dedicated to their occupations, families and communities. In 2015 women were heading the DEA, the Secret Service, the D.C Metropolitan Police Department, the Washington field office of the FBI, and the Amtrak police. Within large agencies today, woman are breaking those top command spots and these are all indicators that women are making great strides and promotions. It seems that simply by doing police work the way they do every day, women are inspiring the next generation of female police officers to step up and follow in their paths.
TCR: What about the high reported rates of domestic abuse involving police? What needs to be done to address this issue?
RABE-HEMP: Domestic violence is a pervasive problem in our society and it is not unique to policing or to any type of occupation. We see domestic violence in all types of families. One thing that can be done, is for us to be aware of the signs and make help available, and encourage those who need assistance to get the help they need.
TCR: Do you see policing changing in the near future? And will women police officers play a role in that change?
RABE-HEMP: Policing is an old institution and the more things change the more they stay the same, but I do see that right now police are attempting to be more community- friendly and more community-focused. I think our consumer model in our society is driving policing as an institution to have that focus. Women are making great strides within policing, and they are going to influence not only how we do police work, but will act as catalysts for change within [police] organization. That is inspiring other women to step forward.
Megan Hadley is a staff reporter with The Crime Report. She welcomes readers’ comments.
Federal agencies seem stuck in a gender time warp, according to Politico. In 1996, women held about 14 percent of the country’s federal law enforcement jobs. Today, the number is just 15 percent.
Despite expanding rapidly over the past two decades, federal law enforcement agencies remain almost as male-dominated as they were during the Clinton administration, according to a Politicosurvey. In 1996, women held about 14 percent of the country’s federal law enforcement jobs; today, they represent just 15 percent. From Customs and Border Protection to the Secret Service, males dominate the ranks in ways they no longer do across the rest of government or even many large police departments. On a percentage basis, there are now more female members of Congress than female officers at the DEA. The lowest ratio of all belongs to the Border Patrol, where just 5 percent of agents are female.
There is no conclusive evidence that women are better or worse at policing than men. Some studies have shown that women are less likely to be involved in police shootings or to prompt complaints, but most of those studies are dated and the sample sizes are very small. As most cops will tell you, training and supervision matter more than biology, and the variation between individuals is much greater than between genders. Beyond symbolism, these imbalances also raise questions about the competence of these agencies. At the most obvious level, female agents are needed to do invasive searches of women — a not-uncommon occurrence at the border in particular. In other agencies, female officers are critical for undercover work. Most importantly, any organization that fails to engage half the population in hiring is missing out on talent.
Dwindling benefits and the rising number of attacks against police nationwide have hurt recruiting in Michigan. The number of law enforcement officials in the state has dropped from more than 22,000 to 18,399 since 2001.
A decade ago, more than 200 applicants sought jobs at the Roseville, Mi., Police Department. Now, Police Chief James Berlin sees fewer than 25 candidates on hiring lists for twice as many openings He estimates at least half were unqualified or failed to pass stringent background checks, reports the Detroit News. “We have to do something, especially for the future,” said David Harvey of the Michigan Commission on Law Enforcement Standards. “I think we’re at a crisis situation with the staffing at our agencies right now.”
Dwindling benefits and the rising number of attacks against police nationwide don’t help recruiting efforts. Michigan’s total of 22,488 law enforcement officers in 2001 has dwindled to 18,399. “Those were reductions due to the economy: significant reductions in revenue sharing and property taxes went down,” said Harvey. Some agencies no longer can afford to pay for potential recruits to attend at least 594 hours of police academy training, which can cost more than $5,000, said Robert Stevenson of the Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police, who adds that, “A lot of the inducements we put out there to attract people to the profession are no longer there.” James Tignanelli, a former Fraser patrolman and president of the Police Officers Association of Michigan, “The job has gotten unattractive. That’s made it harder for us to hire people.”