Issues of Diversity in Law Enforcement in the USA

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United States law enforcement has been intertwined with many topics throughout its history. One of those topics is diversity within law enforcement. Diversity has had an extensive history with law enforcement and its status has changed over time to what is now the present-day United States. With many focused on the importance of diversity in law enforcement, organizations have started attempting to encourage diversity.

Importance of Diversity in Law Enforcement

Diversity within law enforcement is currently a crucial goal that the police department seeks to accomplish. This can be attributed to the many positive outcomes that occur. One of these outcomes of a diverse workforce is that it introduces the ability to exchange different types of knowledge. This is because diversity can be shown in a multitude of forms. These forms can include religion, gender, age, and ethnicity. This exchange of ideas allows officers within law enforcement to perhaps have a better understanding of a situation involving citizens that are different than the officer. The opportunity to converse with diversified officers can also provide information that can be utilized as a guide on how to conduct one’s self in interactions with all or certain types of civilians.

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This presence of diversity in law enforcement is crucial due to that a lack of diversity can lead to negative outcomes for police officers. This can be especially true regarding gay and lesbian police officers. This is because Some law enforcement departments would promote a heteronormative work environment, which resulted in many gay or lesbian officers feeling that they are not safe to express their true selves. This uncomfortable situation for this diverse group can lead to feelings of isolation as well as disengagement. Which can be detrimental to the duties of the officers. This shows how without the presence of enough diversity in law enforcement, the effects on groups like gay and lesbian officers will suffer and negatively affect their duties.

The importance of diversity in law enforcement is shown again in a cluster of studies that were reviewed, and a conclusion was drawn based on the results from the studies. The cluster included multiple separate studies that police officers had participated. All these studies involved some type of diversity training, in which the goal was to enhance the knowledge and attitude of these individuals when interacting with diversified people. The results showed that a significant number of studies stated that individual behavior involving diversity and skills had improved. Another outcome was that the ability to handle situations with diversity issues had also improved. This shows the importance of diversity in law enforcement by how diversity training for a police officer can lead to improved skills that can be utilized when interacting with either citizens or other officers (Diversity training program outcomes).

History of Diversity in Law Enforcement

The history involving diversity and law enforcement has faced many obstacles as well as positive outcomes that are still present today. Though there are many encompassing qualities of diversity, two of those qualities have been focused on the most throughout law enforcement’s history. The two qualities of diversity that are heavily focused on in history are race/ethnic group and gender. Starting with racial minorities' presence in law enforcement, black officers were first beginning to be hired during the political era of policing. The first hired black officers were in Selma, Alabama, in 1867 as well as hired in Houston Texas, in the year 1870. Soon after, multiple cities such as New Orleans and Chicago started to also hire black police officers. Though despite many black officers being more educated and qualified when they are compared to white officers, the decision to hire blacks was perceived as a controversy. This controversy has led to some cities experiencing riots in response to situations, such as black officers arresting white civilians. These events have led to negative actions being taken against black officers due to their race. Examples of these actions were that some cities restricted a black officer’s power of arresting white citizens. While in Miami, black officers were instead referred to as patrolmen while the white stuff was still referred to as policemen. Negative actions taken against black officers drastically worsen due to the ruling that the Civil Rights Act of 1875 was unconstitutional, which resulted in the Supreme Court later upholding separate but equal laws. This led to numerous black officers losing their jobs. A prime example of black police losing their jobs was in New Orleans. Between the years 1870 to 1910, the amount of hired black officers dropped from 177 to zero. It would not be until the year 1950 that a black officer would be hired again.

Now, the presence of women in law enforcement was nonexistent until the late 1800s, when there were only a few allowed. Though the few that were employed were still restricted, unlike the white male officers. These restrictions included that women employed would be called police matrons instead of policemen and not have the power to arrest. The duties of the female officers were centered around handling female prisoners. Though much of the information gathered on female employment in law enforcement is incomplete, it is believed the female officer was hired in 1891 at the Chicago police department. Though the majority of police departments would not employ women as police officers until the 1920s. Women will still have restrictive authority as an officer until the 1970s when women would be given equal authority as male police officers.

Many prominent moments in increasing the amount of diversity in law enforcement was the introduction of certain Acts. The Equal Opportunity Act of 1972 stated that practices of discrimination in employment will lead to serious consequences. This Act did include the state, local, or federal government under the law, and gave power to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) to further investigate and litigate the claims of violation against equal employment. This results in the opportunity for diversity to be better implemented in law enforcement due to not having to have discriminatory obstacles put in place by law enforcement employers.

Current Status of Diversity in Law Enforcement

The representation of diversity continues to exist in law enforcement, though the amount of diversity that is present is different among its forms. Regarding the diversity of gender in law enforcement, it was estimated in 2017 that women make up 12.5% of all sworn officers. Despite the fact that at this time it was estimated that women made up 51% of the overall adult population and 47% of the adult working population. This shows that the status of diversity in relation to gender is underrepresented. Another current statistic regarding this type of diversity is that female officer have greater representation in larger cities. This is shown in how women officers working within cities that have populations over one million make up an estimated 18% of sworn officers within those agencies. While smaller law enforcement agencies will usually have little to no representation of women that are sworn officers.

The current status of racial minorities' presence in law enforcement, shares similar patterns in regard to the diversity of women in law enforcement. These similar patterns are that larger populated cities that contain a big police department also tend to be much more diversified relating to race, as compared to smaller law enforcement agencies. Another pattern between the is that racial minorities are correctly still underrepresented. This evidence is shown by how despite racial minorities making up an estimated 38% of the United States population, only 28% of police officers are members of a racial or ethnic group.

Though the status is that there is a lack of diversity being represented in law enforcement, there have still been great strides in becoming closer to the goal of equal representation. Regarding the data that the amount of racial diversity has increased can be seen through a timeline on hired black officers in Detroit Michigan. The timeline showed that in 1967 only 5% of officers were black, in which by 2017 that number had increased to 67% of sworn officers were black. Thus, showing that the status of diversity in law enforcement for racial groups is improving.

This can also be said in relation to women in law enforcement as well. Many law enforcement agencies do contain female officers at a higher percentage than what the overall average of women officers indicates. These agencies can have anywhere between 20% to 30% of the workforce female officers. An example of one of these agencies is the Madison Police Department in Wisconsin. It is reported that this police department has an estimated 35 % of the entire officer workforce consisting of women. Also, evidence that the status of the diversity of women is increasing can be shown by a graph that shows data on the number of women officers in the United States. The graph showed that from 1971 to 2017, the percentage of women in law enforcement raised from just 1.4% to the estimated 12.5%. This shows that the status of diversity for women has increased in law enforcement.

Organizations Attempting to Encourage Diversity

With the status of diversity within law enforcement still lacking representation, many organizations are striving to encourage more diversity. One of these organizations is the United States government. The way in which the United States government has tried to encourage diversity in law enforcement is the support for affirmative action. The term affirmative action refers to practices that seek to hire groups of diverse individuals that have been previously discriminated against in the United States. This allows for the increased opportunity for diversity to be implemented in law enforcement.

Another organization that is trying the encouraging diversity within its workforce is the local police departments. The way some of these police departments encourage the implementation of diversity is by changing the selection criteria as well as their standards when recruiting potential officers. The reason for wanting to do so is because requirements like having a college education have had a negative impact on racial minorities being recruited into police departments. Another change within the criteria for encouraging diversity within police departments is the upper body strength requirements. This change stems from how certain physical requirements have made the recruitment of women increasingly difficult. An example of a police department utilizing these changes to try to increase diversity is the New Orleans Police Department. These changings included removing the required amount of college credits needed to be eligible for hiring. So, by reducing these requirements, the better chance of hiring applicants that will increase the diversity of the local police departments.

Organizations like police departments have also promoted diversity by implementing required courses that are taken during the training process of the recruits. One of these types of programs is called the values education program. This type of program is designed to teach recruits information that will bring about a positive attitude toward diversity.

Conclusion

Thus, diversity has had a major presence in law enforcement throughout its history in the United States. Throughout history, the importance of diversity has been shown by many studies indicating a major impact between diversity and law enforcement. Despite the current status of diversity still having a lack of representation, there are still organizations that are attempting to promote diversity within the law enforcement workforce.

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Issues of Diversity in Law Enforcement in the USA. (2023, July 11). Edubirdie. Retrieved June 20, 2024, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/issues-of-diversity-in-law-enforcement-in-the-usa/
“Issues of Diversity in Law Enforcement in the USA.” Edubirdie, 11 Jul. 2023, edubirdie.com/examples/issues-of-diversity-in-law-enforcement-in-the-usa/
Issues of Diversity in Law Enforcement in the USA. [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/issues-of-diversity-in-law-enforcement-in-the-usa/> [Accessed 20 Jun. 2024].
Issues of Diversity in Law Enforcement in the USA [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2023 Jul 11 [cited 2024 Jun 20]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/issues-of-diversity-in-law-enforcement-in-the-usa/
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