Does Diversity Matter?

The idea that having racial or ethnic diversity in police departments is the key to ending racial discrimination and promoting more equitable practices in policing is one that is prevalent in our society today.

In response to the killing of police officers in Dallas, Texas last summer following protests about police brutality, the police chief called on community members to train to become officers themselves rather than simply protesting. The attack on the police officers was the deadliest since the 9/11 attacks, and the community had to try to reconcile and work on ways to not resort to this type of violence every time there was tension in the community.

In a National Research Council report from 2004, it was found that officers did not tend to behave differently in civilian interaction based on their race. We have also read in class that the individual character of new police officers is irrelevant in changing the culture of a police department, so it would not be reasonable to think that including even officers who want to change the culture of a department would do anything to cause any significant change. Police departments across the nation have engrained cultures that have not changed in decades and have not changed significantly with increased racial diversity. So why is it that we turn to diversity as a cure-all to our community relations issues? An example of this was that immediately after the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO, there were questions raised about the fact that their police department was ninety-four percent white, with only two black officers.

Yes, the fact that our police departments are so homogenous is an issue, but it is not the same issue as the fact that our police officers’ behavior sometimes happens to be out of line. If community members do not trust the police, especially those of minority groups, they will likely also have no desire to be part of the force in the first place.

Diversity for the sake of diversity can also provide other obstacles. For example, those who would already have greater access to these opportunities, such as those of higher education levels or social status, enter into the field and then are used to show that there are quotas being filled and that their efforts to increase diversity are complete and can now be abandoned. However, this can cause even more resentment in the community, because it then suggests that the barriers also include those based in socioeconomic status in addition to simply their race.

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