Police Seek More Minorities; That Might Not Reduce Tension

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As police-involved shootings have increased tensions between police and black communities across the nation, some law enforcement agencies have tried to recruit a more diverse force as one way to re-establish community trust. Leaders in Indianapolis, Minneapolis and Knoxville, Tn., recently refocused their efforts to attract and hire more minorities, Stateline reports. Officials say having a diverse force is only one way of moving forward. In fact, research is mixed as to whether diversity helps reduce tensions. A 2004 National Research Council report found that, “there is no credible evidence that officers of different racial or ethnic backgrounds perform differently during interactions with citizens simply because of race or ethnicity.” Other strategies help as much or more, such as hiring officers who know and understand the community, asking officers to build better relationships with neighborhoods they serve, reducing officers’ use of aggressive arrest tactics and, increasing officer training.

In Baltimore, the police force is fairly diverse, 42 percent black compared with 63 percent of the general population. Yet in a scathing report this month, the U.S. Justice Department said Baltimore’s policing strategies lead to “severe and unjustified disparities in the rates of stops, searches and arrests of African Americans.” Conflicts between the police and the community stem from much deeper issues, ones that police are not trained to solve, said Thomas Harvey of ArchCity Defenders, a nonprofit advocacy group that provides legal services for indigent people in St. Louis County, Mo.  The share of minority officers nationally has nearly doubled in three decades, from 14.6 to 27.3 percent since 1987, according to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics. That still doesn’t equal the share of minorities in the U.S., at 37.2 percent. Small departments are less diverse. Departments serving less than 2,500 people are 84.4 percent white; departments that serve a million people or more are 53.4 percent white.

 

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