Police Departments Find Legal Hurdles To Increasing Diversity Of Forces


In many cities, well-intentioned policies that were not meant to discriminate have become obstacles to hiring a diverse police force, reports the New York Times. In Inkster, Mi., Police Chief William Riley found a significant problem was something that seemed mundane: how training is paid for. Other cities face rigid hiring processes that were intended to prevent elected leaders from handing out police jobs as patronage, but that make it harder to shape the force to mirror the population. “Local police chiefs take the hit for this, but the truth is that states get what they ask for through legislation,” said former Boston police commissioner Edward Davis. “That's the bottom line here.” In Massachusetts, state law generally requires that officer hiring be based on a test that is given only once every two years. Military veterans who pass are given preference, a policy that exists in some form in many states. Davis said that though he spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on minority recruitment and generated strong interest in police jobs, he could not significantly increase the number of minorities joining the force.

While there is no evidence that police departments with representative populations are less likely to face claims of excessive force or discrimination, civil rights activists and police executives alike say it is important for these forces to resemble their communities. In cities such as Baltimore, Cleveland and Philadelphia, the wide demographic gaps between the police departments and the African-American populations have exacerbated tensions after racially charged protests over police actions. “We must have police services that reflect the communities we serve,” says Seattle Chief Kathleen O'Toole. African Americans account for 12 percent of the population and 12 percent of officers in midsize and large departments surveyed, say 2012 data released in July. That statistic masks a stark disparity in cities with large African-American populations. The overwhelming majority of cities where blacks make up at least 35 percent of the population have wide gaps — 20 percentage points or more — between the community's minority composition and that of local law enforcement.

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