Police departments around the U.S. are under more and more pressure to diversify. In Oakland, Ca., officials say police-community relations also might be improved by increasing the number of cops who actually live in the city. Margaret Dixon, a retired Oakland police officer, grew up in a rough part of this city of 400,000. These days she’s teaching classes at Merritt College, a community college, including one on policing and community relations.
After 25 years on Oakland’s police force, Dixon uses her classes as a kind recruiting ground to get more young people like Manuel Rodriguez to follow in her footsteps. The department is looking for more Latinos, but it’s really looking to recruit more African-Americans. They make up less than 19 percent of the police force, but are 28 percent of the population. Dixon says boosting the number of local recruits in Oakland would mean more officers in sync with the city. Only 7 percent of Oakland’s cops live in the community. “They understand the needs, and they’re policing people that they already know,” she says. It’s not easy becoming a cop: only 5 percent of Oakland’s applicants make it into the academy.