I have had many encounters with police, especially in my youth. So as a black transgender man, I am concerned about issues of police violence. After high profile police shootings, such as the Mike Brown case, and even with the recent rare conviction and sentencing of a former police officer, some have called for increasing the diversity of police departments as a necessary part of the solution. But, would greater diversity within law enforcement be enough to reduce tension and police violence?
It turns out that more police department diversity doesn’t necessarily result in less police violence. For example, a study completed by Sean Nicholson-Crotty and published in the Public Administration Review, found that police-involved fatalities increase as the proportion of Black officers increase, until Black officers reach 25 percent of the force. Nicholson-Crotty suggests that one reason for this may be because minority groups in an established institution may feel pressure to fit in and “go along to get along.” He also found that a drop in police-involved killings occurs when a department reaches about 40 percent Black police officers. At 40 percent, Black officers stop being a small minority, and may have much more influence on the cultural norms of their departments.
This helps to show the difference between “diversity” and “diversity and inclusion” programs. Diversity programs simply seek to up the number underrepresented groups, and without inclusion efforts, can neutralize the benefits of a more diverse workplace. “Inclusion” means paying attention to integrating the perspectives and cultural outlooks of minority staff in order to harness the benefits of diversity. Police departments seeking to increase diversity need diversity and inclusion programs because police officers of different races and ethnicities often see things quite differently. For instance, a Pew Research Center national survey offered the following observations:
[O]nly about a quarter of all white officers (27%) but seven-in-ten of their black colleagues (69%) say the protests that followed fatal encounters between police and black citizens have been motivated at least to some extent by a genuine desire to hold police accountable.
Clearly, Black and White police officers’ perceptions of racial justice issues vary greatly. I have no doubt that these differences shape Black and White police officers’ views of the communities they serve and their approaches to policing. Without inclusion efforts, departments’ standards, culture and approach to policing will reflect the perspectives of White police officers. For example, if White police officers by and large believe that protests are merely anti-police, then a majority-White police department is more likely to treat protesters as a hostile threat. However, if that same police department made genuine use of inclusive practices, then input from their Black officers could help lead the department to treat protesters like American citizens rightfully expressing desire for better accountability.
CLICK TO SHARE AND TWEET: Increasing Black police officers alone won’t decrease police violence. What’s missing? Inclusion efforts.
While the evidence shows that increased diversity on police forces will not necessarily lead to lower police violence and greater community trust, we should seriously consider whether coupling diversity programs with strong inclusion efforts would be more effective.
Joe Jackson is Greenlining’s Diversity and Inclusion Manager.