An analysis by Governing magazine of 2013 personnel data finds minority groups remain underrepresented in nearly all local law enforcement agencies serving at least 100,000 residents. Racial and ethnic minorities are underrepresented by a combined 24 percentage points on average when each police department's sworn officer demographics are compared with Census estimates for the general public. In 35 of the 85 jurisdictions where either blacks, Asians or Hispanics make up the single largest racial or ethnic group, their individual presence in the police department is less than half their share of the population.
Recent events highlighting tensions in predominately minority communities, most notably in Baltimore and Ferguson, Mo., have caused many to call for improving police diversity. While increasing ranks of minority officers alone won't solve many of the underlying problems, a litany of factors have slowed progress in addressing an imbalance that dates back generations. Delores Jones-Brown, a professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said the policing profession is mired by a legacy of racism, and many of the best-qualified minority candidates instead take their skills to the private sector. Further compounding matters, young black men are already disproportionately burdened with prior arrests, disqualifying them from police work.