Diversity in a Police Force essay

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Indeed, even the most outspoken critics of law enforcement will likely be the first to dial "9-1-1" when their homes are being burglarized or members of their families are being attacked, but the fact remains that many police department remain primarily white and male in composition. The impetus for effecting substantive changes in the composition of the nation's police forces will therefore need to be mandated in order for things to change in any meaningful way. The desirability of developing a more diverse police force that reflects the demographic composition of the larger communities they serve has been recognized as an important element in this regard. For instance, as Hood, Rothstein and Baldwin (2004) emphasize, "Any geographically extended political system can set standards from the center, but diversity in law enforcement is often seen as both necessary and desirable" (p. 175). Although it may be necessary and desirable, there are a number of obstacles that continue to characterize the ability of the nation's police departments in achieving this demographic equity, including the different types of recruiting practices in place and these issues are discussed further below.

Are There Differences in Recruiting Practices in Police Departments across the Country?

According to Kurke and Scrivner (1995), the growing body of research concerning diversity in the workplace supports the notion that a diverse workforce is superior to a strictly homogenous one. These authors also add that in order to realize the advantages of cultural diversity, police departments must consider recruiting minorities to be an asset rather than a liability (Kurke and Scrivner 1995). Further, Kurke and Scrivner add that, "Similarly, the police recruiter must share the ideology that cultural and gender diversity is good for the police department" (p. 210).

Notwithstanding any arguments concerning the diminution of standard to promote the inclusion of minority members into the ranks of police departments across the country, some success has been achieved in this regard. For example, Hirschel and Wakefield (1995) report that, "In the United States, police forces have been fairly successful in their efforts to recruit, retain, and promote minorities, but not without the strife and strain that accompanies such efforts. Affirmative action plans and fair employment practices have generally resulted in a much greater percentage of minority officers on police forces (especially urban forces) in the United States" (p. 89). Although in some cases mandated consent decrees by the courts have been used to effect accelerated hiring of minorities for police departments, in other cases, the approach has been strictly voluntary (see data analysis in chapter four). As Hirschel and Wakefield emphasize, "Because of these federal policies and the threat of financial liability in the absence of compliance, the law enforcement systems in the United States have obtained positive results" (p. 89).

One director of personnel reported that the hiring of minorities in Sacramento, California was accelerated in recent years because without operationalizing affirmative action through "selective action recruiting," this municipality would never have achieved parity in its law enforcement ranks (Broadnax 2000). According to this authority, "Effective public administration in a democratic society relies heavily on the existence of genuinely representative bureaucracies. This is primarily because representative public organizations are more likely to assure higher levels of responsiveness and responsibility than could possibly be derived from the simple use of external controls on administrative action" (Broadnax 2000, p. 109). There has also been a growing recognition of the value of bilingual police officers in many highly multicultural communities, but a number of police departments report that potential candidates who possess these valuable skills are difficult to recruit because they can secure other types of work that typically pay much higher salaries and benefits (Culver 2004).

According to Kurke and Scrivner (1995), "Affirmative action and other means of increasing the representation of ethnic minorities and women are valid issues to be addressed by police recruitment officials. Because most police departments are public institutions, they have already entered into the formal and legal debate on affirmative action. Consequently, many police departments today have either voluntarily complied or have been compelled by the courts to hire minority men and women officers" (p. 210). While affirmative action recruitment approaches to improving the diversity of the law enforcement ranks are not without their detractors, some observers suggest that this legal remedy represents one of the most effective ways to improve diversity in police departments across the country today. In this regard, Broadnax concludes that, "Affirmative action programs provide a means of achieving increasingly representative bureaucracies. In other words, affirmative action programs operationalize equal employment opportunity and make the concept useful" (p. 109).

Despite the apparent advantages of accelerated the recruitment of minority members into the law enforcement ranks, there are some apparent disadvantages involved when the techniques used to effect the changes are hasty or ill-conceived. For example, based on his analysis of minority law enforcement recruiting practices, Lott (2000) determined that the recruitment of additional African-American and other minority police officers increased crime rates across the board; however, this author also qualifies these findings by pointing out that this increase in crime rates has been accompanied by correspondingly lower hiring standards involved in recruiting more minority officers which tends to diminish the quality of both new minority and new nonminority officers. According to Lott, "The most adverse effects of these hiring policies have occurred in the areas most heavily populated by blacks. There is no consistent evidence that crime rates rise when more women are hired, and this raises questions about whether norming tests or altering their content to create equal pass rates is preferable" (2000, p. 239). There is also the question of the fundamentally different worldviews held by different members of law enforcement agencies that are based on the cultural backgrounds of mainstream (e.g., white male) and minority recruits and these issues are discussed further below.

Cultural Diversity Issues: Can Culture be a Barrier to the Provision of Effective Policing?

In many cases, people with different worldviews are predisposed to conflict and the unrest in the Middle East readily confirms. In the case of Asian-Americans and mainstream Americans, these profound cultural differences are no less apparent. For example, one well-known sociologist, Geert Hofstede, has examined the cultural differences that exist between countries around the world and found that the U.S. And most Asian nations have distinctly different worldviews across the entire continuum of cultural dimensions which can be readily seen in the representative Figures 1 through 4 below (a description of the various cultural dimensions is provided at Appendix a).

Figures 1 and 2. Cultural Dimension Comparisons of the U.S., China and Japan.

Figures 3 and 4. Cultural Dimension Comparisons of the U.S., Malaysia and Thailand.

Source: Geert Hofstede's Cultural Dimensions (2009).


PDI = Power Distance Index

IDV = Individualism

MAS = Masculinity

UAI = Uncertainty Avoidance Index

LTO = Long-Term Orientation

As can be readily discerned from Figures 1 through 4 above, there are some profound differences in the worldviews held by many Asian nations compared to the United States today. Unfortunately, such cultural barriers continue to adversely affect the ability of minority members to accede to the ranks of law enforcement in some parts of the country where white males are the norm and anything different is viewed with skepticism and suspicion. In this regard, Sklansky (2006) adds that, "American law enforcement has come a long way from the overwhelmingly white, virtually all-male, pervasively homophobic police forces of thirty or forty years ago -- although there is still a good way left to go, and the extent of the changes vary greatly from department to department" (p. 1210).

There has been some progress made in overcoming cultural barriers within the police ranks across the country in recent years, though, with some police departments including diversity educational programs and foreign language instruction as part of their training regimens. These initiatives are particularly important for communities that have experienced a large addition of a particular minority group, which in most cases has been Hispanic. According to Culver (2004), "Language and cultural barriers have a significant impact for police agencies that have recently experienced a large influx of Latinos. In response, Culver (2004) reports that, "Within the last decade, some police departments have started to teach their officers "Survival Spanish," a course on how to communicate in basic Spanish for routine responsibilities such as making an arrest, conducting a basic interrogation and assisting victims" (p. 4). Likewise, Barlow and Barlow (1999) report that, "Cultural diversity, cultural sensitivity, or race relations training are a central component of many recent proposals for reform in the area of police-community relations. Police departments and training bureaus across the nation are developing cultural diversity awareness training programs with conspicuous urgency, often in response to grievous incidents in interactions between police and racial, ethnic, and cultural minorities" (p. 69).

It is reasonable to suggest that these types of initiatives will go a long way in helping overcome extant…[continue]

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