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Police departments struggle to reflect race of communities they serve

Posted March 7

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— A protest march and community meeting that followed the shooting death last week of a black man by a white Raleigh police officer started a fresh conversation about the relationship between law enforcement officers and the people they protect.

Police say Akiel Denkins, who was wanted on drug charges, ran from the officer and tried to pull a gun before the officer fired his weapon.

As investigators last Monday tried to determine what happened, the image of white police officers standing along a line of crime tape with a predominately African-American crowd on the other side threw into relief the challenge of police department diversity.

It is a hiring and recruiting challenge for police departments across the country. Although Raleigh's chief of police, Cassandra Deck-Brown is an African-American woman, overall police demographics rarely mirror the city.

Wellington Scott, a retired member of the North Carolina State Highway Patrol and chief operating officer of the International Academy of Public Safety, called it "extremely important" that a police department reflect the community it serves.

"One of the keys to effective policing is building trust," he said.

"Be a part of those communities, not just in an enforcement way, but in a social way," he said. "There's a social responsibility in policing."

Statistics from 2014 show that, while 61 percent of Raleigh's population is white, 73 percent of the sworn officers of the Raleigh Police Department are. African-Americans make up 27 percent of the Raleigh population but just 11 percent of the police department.

A report by the U.S. Department of Justice notes that both black men and black women are underrepresented among sworn officers in Raleigh.

Durham faces a similar challenge. Forty percent of the Bull City population is African-American, but only 26 percent of sworn officers there are.

For Raleigh resident Antwain Sanders, relationships are more important than race in building that trust.

"I don't think all RPD's (officers) are racist," he said. "It's just that we need a bond and to have a good relationship."

Scott says race can be a "trust multiplier."

"When you start building trust in that community, you start bringing people on board," he said.

Scott recommends that concerned citizens, especially young African-Americans, hold the solution to police diversity.

"To be a real solution to the problem, what you want to do is be a part of that solution. Join that organization to make that difference. Make your presence known," he said.

Scott suggests that departments give officers incentives to live in the neighborhoods they serve and increase police relations in schools.

7 Comments

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  • Eugene Irene Mar 8, 2016
    user avatar

    When will we all just hire the best available people and forget about their race. Race has no bearing on who would make the best police officers. It seems like the left aided by the Press focuses entirely on race and racial balance at every occasion. That's racist! Until and unless we can forget that race is important will be have a truly non racist society.

  • Matt Nickeson Mar 8, 2016
    user avatar

    View quoted thread



    What? Hammer finds a nail?

  • Brian Gaertner Mar 7, 2016
    user avatar

    Enough of the race baiting wral. You guys weren't able to stir the pot enough last week with your irresponsible reporting of the events that transpired around the young man that tragically lost his life. Now you're trying to raise tensions again by trying to make the African American community feel like they aren't equally represented in the local law enforcement.

    It would be great to have the same percentage of black officers in the force as there are in the population of Raleigh to make it fair. However, like Mark Cooper said, unless we can see the racial makeup of who's applying to the RPD, you cannot draw any real conclusions from the actual racial makeup of the force.

  • Melanie Lane Mar 7, 2016
    user avatar

    in my opinion the racial make-up of the force doesn't create the social issues, the social issues cause the makeup discrepancy. Look at the republican presidential primary where we have one candidate yelling louder than the other on what discrimination they are going to pass. We've elected candidates for decades now who pass policies that aid the top at the expense of the bottom. More goes to those who don't need it and those who need it are left holding the bag. If we passed policies that were geared towards inclusion and justice for all it wouldn't matter what color of the police officer because we'd all know we were in it together. Instead we've created a them against us society and then pretend we're surprised when tensions happen. We then get on our sides and who to blame but the truth is that we are all to blame for allowing these policies to take root. It's time to say no more.

  • Roy Jones Mar 7, 2016
    user avatar

    Where is the graph of crimes committed by demographic make up.
    If this hiring process is allowed it could be considered discrimination by not allowing the best qualified individual the job just to get the number right for less qualified applicants.

  • Mark Cooper Mar 7, 2016
    user avatar

    To draw better conclusions don't we need the % by applicant to compare to the % on the force?

  • Craig Elliott Mar 7, 2016
    user avatar

    Having absolutely zero knowledge of RPD's recruiting process I offer some suggestions:

    Follow the ROTC (or even JROTC) model, offering education and training in exchange for a work commitment.

    Recruit heavily in the military sector. These folks are service-oriented, smart and disciplined, but will need to be redirected from a combat mindset to a social mindset.

    Continue to invest in community oriented policing. The social benefits are hard to put a dollar value on, but having a familiar face on the block pays long term.

    Ah, the answers are so easy in the world of the internet: no budget restrictions, no litigation and everything works out just perfectly. The unicorns do make a mess though...