Where Is the Diversity in Police Departments

By Sheryl Estrada

Police departments around the country continue to lack diversity.

On Thursday, USA TODAY released an analysis of Census estimates from 2000 to 2010. Across the nation almost three-quarters of all police officers, detectives and their supervisors are white, while the U.S. population is only about 64 percent white.

Officers who are members of underrepresented groups are concentrated in a few metropolises. More than one-third of 111,000 Black officers worked in just 10 cities. One-quarter of the 107,000 Latino police worked in just seven cities.

And there are large disparities in the representation of Latino officers:

  • In at least 100 cities, Latino representation among police is less than half of their share of the population.
  • In at least 125 cities, the disparity between Latinos’ representation among police and the population was greater than 10 percentage points. In 37 cities, the gap surpassed 25 percentage points.

For example, more than 50 percent of the population in Ector County, Texas, is Latino, but in 2010 less than 5 percent of police in the county were Latino.

Sheriff Mark Donaldson said the department is close to one-third Latino following recent hiring.

“I don’t care what race or nationality you are, I want you to do the job,” Donaldson said. “Three of my last four new officer hires were Hispanic.”

The lack of Latino officers is also reflected in an earlier report published in September by The Associated Press. It consisted of Census Bureau data from 1987 to 2007 for more than 1,400 police departments that compared statistics on a community’s racial and ethnic makeup using staffing surveys by the Justice Department.

Although at least 49 departments had a majority-Latino population, more than half of the police department was white.

“It is one of the challenges that I inherited,” said Adrian Garcia, the first Latino Sheriff in Harris County, Texas, which includes Houston. “I call myself the chief recruiter. I have to talk to the community and let them know we want their sons and daughters to serve the community.”

In at least 50 cities with more than 100,000 people, the percentage of Black police is less than half of what Blacks represent in the population. And there are 10 cities, which have at least 500 officers each, with the widest gap in Black law enforcement officers and Black residents.

Dayton, Ohio, has the largest racial gap in police representation, followed by: Buffalo, N.Y.; Detroit; Cincinnati; Cleveland; Richmond, Va.; Fayetteville, N.C.; Syracuse, N.Y.; Kansas City, Mo.; and Shreveport, La.

On Friday, the Cincinnati Enquirer published an updated racial breakdown of the city’s police department provided by Cincinnati Police Department spokeswoman Tiffaney Hardy.

Of the department’s 1,012 sworn officers, 676 are white, 308 are Black and 28 are classified as “other.”

That equals a police force that is 67 percent white, 30 percent Black and 3 percent “other.” According to the 2010 Census, Cincinnati is about 48 percent white, 45 percent Black, 3 percent Latino and 2 percent Asian.

Cincinnati City Councilwoman Yvette Simpson agreed that a department’s racial makeup should reflect its community’s, but she said policing is about more than that.

“It’s not just about the race; it’s also about the training. It’s about the mentality of the officers and the way that we police,” she said.

As we’ve seen in recent incidents like Ferguson, however, race disparities in police departments need to be a concern. Ferguson is 67 percent Black yet has a 93 percent white police force. That definitely played a role in the policing of the protests that followed.

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