Over time, the Federal Bureau of Investigation has become even less diverse — and its own director doesn’t know why.
During a speech on Wednesday, FBI Director James Comey called a decrease in diversity a “crisis” during a time when racial issues are at the forefront.
“We have a crisis in the FBI and it is this: Slowly but steadily over the last decade or so, the percentage of special agents in the FBI who are white has been growing,” he said, adding, “I will have failed if I don’t change this.”
The numbers show that FBI diversity has in fact been on a steady decline for nearly 20 years. According to the FBI’s website, as of March 8, 2016, its special agents are 83.41 percent white; 6.63 percent Latino; 4.37 percent Black; 4.48 percent Asian; and less than 1 percent American Indian/Alaska Native, Hawaiian/Pacific Islander and multi-race.
In 2012, a year before Comey became director, special agents were 83.1 percent white; 7 percent Latino; 4.8 percent Black; 4.2 percent Asian; and less than 1 percent multi-racial, American Indian/Alaska Native and Hawaiian/Pacific Islander.
The numbers were declining even before Comey stepped in. In 2008, special agents were 81.9 percent white, 7.8 percent Hispanic, 5.2 percent Black, 4.1 percent Asian, less than 1 percent American Indian and 0 percent Hawaiian/Pacific Islander and two or more races.
In 1997, Politico reported, special agents were 6.9 percent Latino and 5.6 percent Black.
Diversity among college graduates has been steadily increasing, as the FBI’s recruiting efforts went in the other direction. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, from the 1996-97 school year to 2013-14, the percent of bachelor’s degrees earned by nonwhite people increased 35 percent. The latest data showed 67.7 percent of four year degree earners were white, 10.6 percent were Black, 11.2 percent were Hispanic, 7.3 percent were Asian/Pacific Islander, 2.5 were percent two or more races and less than 1 percent were American Indian/Alaska Native.
Comey was speaking at a conference called “Working Together — The Primary Prevention for Safety and Security” at Bethune-Cookman University in Florida. The event was put together by Historically Black Colleges & Universities Law Enforcement Executives and Administrators, a group dedicated to the safety of students at HBCUs and the quality of HBCUs’ law enforcement.
Comey also addressed that the problem starts with him.
“I am trapped inside this not-too-impressive, 6-foot-8-inch, skinny white guy from the New York metropolitan area existence,” he said. “That’s who I am. I can’t escape that. All that data I take in comes in through that filter.”
Comey has spoke about the need for diversity on several occasions since taking his position in September 2013, but data shows he has not actually done anything to solve the problem. In 2015 he called the FBI “overwhelmingly white and male” and said it will be a “big challenge” to change that.
“It is an imperative for all of us in law enforcement to try to reflect the communities we serve. … I have to change my numbers,” he said at the time.
But the numbers have only gotten worse — and racial tension and violence have become more visible. During the conference some parents told Comey they are now fearful for their childrens’ lives, especially after the most recent police-related deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile.
Adrian Wiggins, executive director of Campus Safety and Public Safety at a college in Baltimore, became choked up when confessing his concerns to the director.
“Full disclosure, I’ve been Black for all my life, and I’m raising a young Black man who is a wonderful, wonderful man, 10 years old,” Wiggins said. “I raise him right, I take him to church, teach him right from wrong. And I’m just afraid for my son.”
Wiggins said he worries his “10-year-old son will be … one of those issues going down.” and asked, “What is it that can be done by the [FBI] to help me sleep better at night? To be less afraid for my son?”
Comey said it is “vitally important” to “try very, very hard to put ourselves in the shoes of others” and called for more data about police violence, as well as open discussions about these issues.
However, Comey’s past discussions about race relations between police and communities, specifically with Black people in communities, have not been productive for the conversation. Last year when discussing racial profiling during a speech he seemed to be making excuses for the practice rather than explaining how to address the problem.
“The two young Black men on one side of the street look like so many others the officer has locked up. Two young white men on the other side of the street, even in the same clothes, do not,” he said at the time. “The officer does not make the same sinister association about the two white guys, whether that officer is white or Black.”