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Recent protests renew call for more diversity in police departments

Posted at 4:09 PM, Jun 08, 2020

Police departments across the country have been getting more diverse, but there are conversations happening now about further improving diversity in new officer hiring.

A new analysis from The Washington Post finds many major police forces are still whiter than the communities they serve.

For example, in Milwaukee County, Wisconsin, 49% of residents are racial minorities, but 83% of officers are white. And in Philadelphia, 77% of the population is non-white, but 59% of officers are white.

University of Maryland criminal justice professor Maria Velez has been researching the impact of this as it relates to crime.

“In communities that are predominantly African American, as percentage black goes up in a neighborhood, that's often been thought of as a risk factor for violent crime, but what we find is that in cities where there is, representation in terms of the city council, having a black mayor, having a civilian review board, having prior levels of unrest actually renders that relationship insignificant,” said Velez.

She says when cities have more minorities on their police force, that signals accountability and receptiveness. And that filters down to the neighborhood level where it starts to create a sense of trust.

“At the end of the day, this is good for both the communities and the police right, because the police need to be able to do the work that they need to do to help with things related to crime, but they can only do that if the community trusts them and is willing to engage with them and work with them,” said Velez.

She stresses having more black and Latino officers is a step in the right direction. However, departments also have to make sure there is institutional change, where police are held accountable from outside the department.