Q&A – Is Police Racially Representative Of The Communities They Serve?

Today’s entry: I was wondering if having more diverse law enforcement would help stop issues like what happened in Minneapolis. I don't know if having a black police officer among the four would have made a difference but maybe? It seems to me that community policing that’s representative of the communities they’re serving would be the best policing and ease racial tensions.

Bottom Line: You’re right on point with the importance of community policing. An independent task force spearheaded by the Department of Justice after the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri (a situation in which the officer involved in Brown’s death was acquitted of charges but brought deep division and violence to the community) found as much. According to the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, there are three keys to community policing:

  1. Forming Community Partnerships
  2. Organizational Adaptation
  3. Solving Problems Together

The forming of community partnerships including the forging of relationships within communities served by law enforcement. This includes outreach to specific leaders within communities and open lines of communication. Organizational Adaptation comes in the form of law enforcement agencies creating specific points of contact with community leaders and concerned citizens when conflict or concerns arise. These are generally leaders in law enforcement who’ve forged the community partnerships. Once these elements are in place, communities and law enforcement agencies are tasked with addressing issues collaboratively as needed. It sounds simple enough in concept but when you think through it, it's evident how it could be a more effective way of policing – especially when conflict resolution is needed. You bring up another valid point. A police force that reflects the community. Here’s the current racial makeup of law enforcement nationally:

  • Black: 13%
  • Hispanic/White: 77%
  • All others: 10%

That’s about in line with the racial makeup of the country. Nationally 73% of the population is Hispanic/White, while 12% of the population is black. In fact, on balance, there are more black law enforcement professionals as a percentage of the law enforcement community than the population as a whole. Racial diversity doesn’t seem to be the issue. That’s not to say there aren’t law enforcement agencies across the country that don’t reflect their communities, but in general, they do. The bigger issue, when it exists, appears to be within specific agencies - like the Minneapolis PD. It just so happens that a Minnesota task force completed a comprehensive review of policing in February which produced 28 recommendations and 33 action items involving deadly force incidents. None of them were acted on by the MPD. Digging into this story a bit deeper shows many potential issues within that law enforcement agency. Perhaps this explains why an officer used a knee on the neck George Floyd and three officers watched and waited until it was too late. Hopefully, this is the catalyst for any law enforcement agency that doesn’t have its act together, to get it together. Not only is the conduct of the four officers involved in the death of George Floyd inexcusable, but it’s also clear it can’t be allowed to happen again- anywhere in this country. From police body cams to phone cameras, the days of police brutality sliding by are and should be over. 

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