The number of minority police officers has risen around the U.S., but they remain heavily concentrated in larger cities, with the numbers falling off sharply in smaller ones, like Ferguson, Mo., and Maple Heights, Oh., which the New York Times profiles to illustrate the difficulties of recruiting minorities. Data from a 2007 federal survey of police departments, analyzed for the Times by sociologist Andrew Beveridge of Queens College, found that nearly 400 departments, most with fewer than a hundred officers, were substantially whiter than the populations they served. In those departments, the share of white officers was greater than the share of white residents by more than 50 percentage points. Ferguson and Maple Heights are about the same size, just over 20,000 people, and in both, the black population has surged in recent decades. Both cities have white mayors and largely white political leaderships. Both police departments have fallen far short of reflecting the communities they serve, even as some of Maple Heights's neighboring police departments have achieved much higher levels of diversity.
Critics point to the lack of racial balance in police departments as evidence of systemic racism. Experts say the experiences of the two towns illustrate the obstacles to achieving diversity in law enforcement, even for departments that have made it a priority. “I see all these pundits come on the Sunday talk shows and say: 'Of course you can hire more black people. Of course they're not trying,' ” said Nelson Lim of at the RAND Institute's Center on Quality Policing who has consulted with departments in Los Angeles and San Diego. “But it's very, very, very difficult.” There is little hard evidence that diversity correlates with better performance, in part because it is difficult to control for complex variables and to know which outcomes, from crime rates to brutality cases, to measure. In fact, a study of a Florida police department found that black officers were more likely than white to use force against black suspects.