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Black Law Enforcement Officers Stress Need for More Diversity in St. Louis Area Police Agencies

Dated: Tuesday August 19, 2014

In a recent news article posted by St. Louis Public Radio (“St. Louis Area Police Forces are Less Diverse than Communities They Serve, Statistics Show”), it was reported that, while nearly two-thirds of the Ferguson, MO population is comprised of African American citizens, only 3 of the city’s 53-member police force are African American. While this is typical of these smaller agencies, it is nonetheless disturbing and distressing.

Current research indicates that roughly 11.9% of all law enforcement officers in the United States are African American. Yet it would appear that the bulk of this representation may be in those larger metropolitan and urban agencies, such as Washington, DC, Chicago, Philadelphia, New York, and Los Angeles, as this same research indicates that more than half of the police agencies in the nation employ less than 100 officers. Consequently, it may be safe to presume that their numbers are relatively small in those agencies, such as the Ferguson Police Department, that seem to makeup the mainstream of the nation’s law enforcement community.

For more than 2 centuries, however, African Americans have directly participated in the delivery of police services, and have played a pivotal role in the scheme of police-community relations, even while their services, impact and accomplishments have been largely ignored by White researchers and commentators. And this service has been in both large and small agencies.

However, when an agency’s personnel do not adequately reflect the tone and nature of the community it serves, it provides strong indications and perceptions of an unwillingness to address community needs and concerns, racially biased hiring procedures, and a complete lack of connectedness with the community being served, thus often leading to formal complaints regarding agency practices. It further indicates that any expressed initiatives towards community policing may be nothing more than “public speak” and have little or no true substance.

While the promotion of African American officers to higher ranks, as expressed by Chief Thomas Jackson, is always considered as a positive step forward, it cannot be considered as a method of increasing agency diversity, as it can only become more diverse when greater percentages of their numbers appear.

It is the connectivity with the community and the transparency of the recruiting campaign which directs the flow of applicants, not the mere notice that positions are open or available. It is the concerted effort to insure that all possible stakeholders in the community are aware of the agency’s need for expansion and of the method and procedure for engaging in the process that focuses the attention of those who are sought for these positions.

It requires “thinking outside of the box” in the conduct of the recruiting campaign, needing much more than mere visits to colleges and career fairs. It requires both structured communication with, and cooperation from, community leaders, faith-based groups, social and fraternal organizations, and the business community, as all are stakeholders in the efforts to keep the community safe. And it requires the publication and distribution of information in locations previously not considered but no less part and parcel of the targeted community, as it is the access to information that spearheads its use.

We urge the St. Louis County Police Department, and specifically the Ferguson Police Department, to redouble their efforts in the recruitment of persons of color. We recommend a full, transparent and complete review of the methodologies used by each agency in their hiring practices, as well as their retention, promotion and disciplinary processes, each of which has both a direct and dynamic impact on the service of African American and Latino officers. We, as well, strongly urge each to make a more concerted effort to engage the community in their programs, as the very essence of any community policing initiative is the community, without which those efforts will undoubtedly fail.

The National Association of Black Law Enforcement Officers, Inc, a 501.(c).(3) non-profit, is a premier national organization representing the interests and concerns of African American, Latino and other criminal justice practitioners of color serving in law enforcement, corrections, and investigative agencies throughout the United States, and the communities in which they serve.

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