Diversity, Statistics, and Reality: Who’s Responding to 911?

We’ve heard a lot in the past several weeks about the racial makeup of departments in comparison to the communities they protect. In fact, I’ve been asked questions both during interviews and off-camera about the racial diversity of law enforcement agencies. Unfortunately, the answer is more simple and less troubling than the question or in many cases, the motivation for the question.

Law enforcement agencies can only hire the people who apply, can pass the physical ability evaluations, are able to pass the psychological screenings, and who successfully meet the background check standards of the state and the agency. While this seems intuitive to LEOs, especially to those in recruiting, the point seems lost on those outside of the profession.

An agency may put out a call for applicants and have 500 take the initial exam. Of those 500, it is not uncommon for only 10 -20 applicants to be left from the original pool of 500. The psychological exam will often present a major obstacle for candidates with a large percentage dropping out. However, the background check is the toughest hurdle. Through a predictably rigorous background investigation, with standards set by the state and the agency, a handful of applicants may be left.

The numbers above only tell half the story. The process starts with a pool of applicants. So, who is applying? I personally know great departments and great agency heads who recruit hard to have minority applicants enter the process. They work with the local community, the military, local colleges, and other sources to broaden the diversity of the applicant pool. However, at the end of the day, they agency can only work with those who apply.

The reality is that in many communities, people do not want to be LEOs. Despite the community outreach, LEOs in schools, and other programs, it is difficult to combat the rhetoric spouted by the ignorant sending a message throughout the community that “all cops are bad.” These same people claim that a lack of diversity is the problem while doing everything they can to dissuade people in the community from applying to be LEOs.

As bad as this situation has become, the saddest reality is the reason for many questions about diversity. For many, these inquiries begin with a premise that LEOs cannot serve and protect people who do not look like them or worse, that LEOs do not care about citizens who do not look like them. I reject this premise outright. LEOs put their lives on the line for strangers everyday, even strangers who look nothing like them, with whom they have nothing in common, and who would not support them in any circumstance. LEOs do this precisely because they care. They are certainly not doing it for the money or the fame.

When citizens needs help, they call 911. When they are in danger, they do not care what the LEO looks like who arrives as long as she gets there in time to prevent the loss of life and limb. Perhaps if those who have so much to say about diversity in law enforcement chose to put in an application instead of throwing stones, they could become part of the solution. In the meantime, LEOs will keep patrolling, keep answering calls, and keep looking for applicants to increase their ranks. However, in the current environment of LEOs being bashed daily in the national media, why would anyone apply? Stay safe.

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