The killing of an unarmed black Michael Brown, 18, an officer in a nearly all-white police department in suburban St. Louis focused the nation on the racial balance between police forces and the communities they protect. An analysis by The Associated Press found that the racial gap between black police officers and the communities where they work has narrowed over the last generation, particularly in departments that were the least diverse. A much larger disparity is now seen in the low number of Hispanic officers. Waco, Tx., for example, is more than 30 percent Hispanic, but the police department of 231 full-time sworn officers has only 27 Hispanics.
In Anaheim, Ca., where the police department is among the least racially balanced in the nation, the police killings of two Latino men in 2012 set off weeks of angry protests. While more than half the community is Hispanic, only 23 percent of the sworn police officers are. “There’s a huge gap between community and police,” said Theresa Smith of the Anaheim Community Coalition, which aims to improve police oversight. Police shot and killed Smith’s son in 2009. “You can’t bridge that gap if people don’t trust you.” The AP compared Census Bureau data about a community’s racial and ethnic makeup with staffing surveys by the Justice Department for more than 1,400 police departments from 1987 and 2007, the most recent year for which the data are available. The AP analyzed how different a department’s racial makeup was from the population it served.