Around the country, law enforcement agencies are taking concrete and meaningful steps to increase the diversity of their workforces – defined not only in terms of race and gender, but also religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, language ability, background and experience. This fall, the Justice Department and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) released a comprehensive report that compiled information about many of these efforts. The report examined barriers and promising practices for advancing diversity in law enforcement across three key areas: recruitment, hiring and retention.
Underlying this work is a recognition that while greater workforce diversity alone cannot ensure fair and effective policing, there is a significant body of research suggesting that diversity can make policing more effective, more safe and more just.
While the promising practices highlighted in the Advancing Diversity in Law Enforcement report showcase the innovative and thoughtful work that dozens of law enforcement agencies are doing, there are also countless other agencies around the nation that are committed to this effort. At the International Association of Chiefs of Police convention in October, the Justice Department participated in a workshop with police chiefs from Atlanta; Austin, Texas; Chattanooga, Tennessee; and Morrisville, North Carolina, focused on innovative ways of increasing diversity within law enforcement.
In addition, during the last two months, the Justice Department and the EEOC partnered with U.S. Attorneys around the country to host “Diversity Dialogues” in Savannah, Georgia; Madison, Wisconsin; and Wichita, Kansas. At these sessions, local law enforcement leaders highlighted a range of efforts underway in their agencies to increase diversity.
At the Savannah session, police chiefs spoke about the importance of mentoring to provide recruits with the support and information they need to better understand the application and hiring process. One chief explained that his agency uses a mock interview board to help prepare applicants unfamiliar with application requirements. The board provides guidance on what to wear and how to act during the interview. And it helps applicants match their experience with the skills needed on the job. Several chiefs in the room emphasized the connection between the perception of law enforcement and the reputation of the profession. During a time of intense scrutiny on law enforcement, chiefs said that underrepresented communities, and youth in particular, express a reluctance to join the profession. Many law enforcement leaders shared proactive communication strategies that can help improve messaging, disseminate critical information to debunk stereotypes and strengthen trust with the community.
In Madison, law enforcement leaders mentioned the need to view background investigations through a different perspective, giving properly-trained investigators the flexibility to apply standards fairly to qualified candidates with varied experiences. We talked about review systems that can differentiate between minor infractions and felony convictions. We explored the unique challenges facing youth so that small mistakes don’t become insurmountable barriers to wearing the badge. And we examined strategies to ensure that physical, health and wellness tests relate to actual job duties and account for the wide range of responsibilities facing officers.
In Wichita, law enforcement leaders spoke about the importance of targeted community outreach efforts to vulnerable communities, including youth, minority residents and individuals with mental illness. We discussed how community organizations and faith leaders can serve as a bridge between police departments and the residents they serve, helping to diffuse tensions and spark conversations. To connect with Hispanic communities in the state, law enforcement agencies have worked to recruit Spanish-speaking officers by offering pay incentives, launching Spanish social media pages, creating Hispanic liaison positions and scheduling regular meetings with community members.
In all the work that has taken place as part of the Advancing Diversity in Law Enforcement initiative, everyone recognizes that no single solution can create a more diverse police department. Rather, law enforcement leaders across the country have expressed strong support for facilitating robust dialogue, collaborating on promising practices and creating customized solutions to specific barriers facing underrepresented communities. They have voiced a firm belief that together, through research and engagement, we can make progress in ensuring that law enforcement agencies represent the diversity of our communities.
None of this will happen overnight. But by seizing this national moment of widespread public focus on community-police relations, law enforcement agencies have a unique opportunity to drive innovative success stories. The Justice Department looks forward to serving as both a resource and partner in that effort.
Law enforcement officials interested in learning more about the Advancing Diversity in Law Enforcement initiative should email firstname.lastname@example.org.