On August 9, 2014, Michael Brown was shot and killed by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri. Since then, more than 500 African Americans have been shot and killed by police. The African American community cited racism as the major reason for the disproportionate numbers of unarmed blacks killed by police. African American leaders, organizers and city governments responded by demanding more diversity in policing. Diversity became the buzz word in law enforcement. Departments began focusing on bringing their numbers up to meet the demand of diversity standards set by department heads and city managers. The going equation was, more African American officers equals fewer African Americans killed by police. The fact is, diversity is simply not enough.
Diversity in the police force can be a positive first step in bridging the gap between law enforcement and the people they serve. Diversity among officers can bring with it the advantage of multiple perspectives, creativity, and most importantly, the trust of the communities. For African Americans reeling from disproportionately higher rates of their men and boys shot by the police, black officers can bring a higher sense of legitimacy and safety.
In reality, diversity is no panacea, and if mishandled can actually make things worse. Data analysis by author and Indiana University Public Policy Professor Dr. Sean Nicholson-Crotty found a larger number of black officers correlated with a larger number of black residents killed by police until the department reached a critical mass of about 35% black officers. Nicholson-Crotty suggests this may be due to the tendency for out-group members to adhere to in-group norms in order to fit in.
According to Nicholson-Crotty, a minority group needs to reach a critical mass before the members feel comfortable advocating for those who are like them. A new officer fresh out of the police academy is, for good reason, more focused on getting through the field training program and probation than improving race relations between the department and the community. A lateral is typically seasoned enough to know at least one of a few things about joining a police department. First, not to rock the boat at a new agency or they will risk being pushed out before they even find stability. Second, as a minority, they will likely be alienated and shut out of special assignments and promotions if they speak up against what they see as a racist culture within the department. Finally, a minority in a department with a culture of bias and in some cases outright racist beliefs and practices will not be heard or taken seriously if they speak out for their own cultural group. In fact, they are likely to be viewed in a more negative light than their white peers speaking out about the same thing. (Czopp, A. (2005, Aug 15)
According to a 2006 study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, being confronted by a member of the group one has just offended elicits different responses from the offender depending on who is doing the confronting. (Czopp, A. (2005, Aug 15) Specifically, if the confronter is a member of the group they are defending, they are seen as over sensitive and confrontational. (Czopp, A. (2005, Aug 15) Being labeled a trouble maker, or confrontational does not bode well for an officer joining a new department. Keeping quiet does not seem like a bad choice under those circumstances. Perhaps a better choice is to wait until the percentage of black officers reaches a critical mass. Maybe not.
According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, US police departments have become more racially and ethnically diverse. (Pew Social trends (2017) Between 2000 and 2013, there were approximately 504,000 sworn police officers in the US. In 2000, 23% were racial or ethnic minorities. By 2013 that had increased to 27%. During that same time, the percentage of Hispanic police officers grew from 13% to 15%. Between 2000 and 2013 the share of black police officers remained largely the same. Reaching the critical mass, in even a small number of departments is an extremely lofty goal considering the difficulty departments are currently having with hiring enough officers to keep a full staff.
While this essay focuses on diversity as it relates to African Americans, we must not forget the other marginalized groups. Women, other racial minorities and those with other religious beliefs are all part of the diversity equation. What is the critical mass for them? Departments must still police the public. That public looks different depending on where the department operates. So what do we do?
Conformity can also be simply defined as "yielding to group pressures (Cruchfield, 1955). Group pressure may take different forms, for example, bullying, persuasion, teasing, criticism, etc. Conformity is also known as majority influence (or group pressure) (Simple Psychology (2016)
The solution is in the reason there is a need for the critical mass in the first place. Before black officers reach the critical mass, they are much more susceptible to conformity with the majority group. As it turns out, at 35%, black officers begin to form their own in-group. They are no longer dependent on the majority group for support. Conformity changes as the minority is no longer pressured to go along with the opinions of the majority group. They have a large enough percentage to have a real voice in the agency. Intentional changes in the department's focus can create a culture of inclusion. With a culture of inclusion, a department can enjoy the same benefit as the critical mass of 35%, not just for blacks but for all the marginalized communities they serve.
A diversity-focused department may simply hire based on a percentage structure. Ironically, reaching diversity goals can have the harmful effect of causing a department's management to believe they have completed the work necessary to remove the liability of diversity related issues. Diversity can be achieved within a department without any real changes to culture. But, when cultures change, interactions with the public and within the department will change with it.
The real advantage of diversity comes with the inclusion of the varied experiences, opinions, and viewpoints of a heterogeneous group. Once a department reaches a diversity critical mass, officers are willing to offer their opinions rather than keep them in for fear of being pushed out of the in-group or denied promotion etc. But in a culture of inclusion, officers would not only feel free to voice their real opinions and viewpoints, they would be encouraged to. In a department with a culture of inclusion, it would not take the department getting to the critical mass of 35% to hear the varied experiences, opinions and viewpoints of any marginalized group. In a department with a culture of inclusion, diverse opinions would be given a voice at 8%, 5% or even 3%. So what does it take to build a culture of inclusion? It starts with intentionality and a real focus on weaving both diversity and inclusion into the fabric of the organizational culture.
"Organizations that emphasize inclusion and integrate diversity into all policies and practices may benefit to a greater extent compared with organizations focusing on diversity as a stand-alone practice" (Scott, K., Heathcote, J., & Gruman, J. (2011)
"Organizations that manage diversity well, do so because they have created an inclusive culture that values individual differences." (Scott, K., Heathcote, J., & Gruman, J., (2011) Building a culture of inclusion means being intentional about weaving inclusivity into the fabric of the organization. The very culture of the department must be one which is committed to both diversity and inclusion. According to MIT's Sloan School of Management, Professor Emeritus Ed Schein, organizational culture shows up in three main categories: Artifacts, Values, and Assumptions. Artifacts are the visible structures and processes of an organization which includes all physical workspaces. Values are the policies and procedures which impact the workplace environment. Assumptions are those deep-rooted attitudes in an organization which are taken for granted. A truly inclusive organization has inclusivity as a focus through all three levels of its culture. Here are some examples of how departments can go about creating that culture.
Artifacts: Show your commitment to diversity on the website by stating your commitment plainly for all to see. Display a diverse cast of people in different positions on the site. Review the wording on your job postings so those members of marginalized communities feel welcomed and encouraged to work for the organization. Studies show a lack of gender-inclusive wording caused significant implications for recruiting professionals tasked to recruit women to hard-to-fill positions underrepresented by women. (Shearman, S., (2013) Put diversity in the eye of the employee by placing pictures of different people in stereotype challenging roles in the workplace. Let employees see the department's commitment to diversity and inclusion daily.
Values: Encourage a policy of inclusion at every meeting. Insist that everyone is heard and every opinion is valued as their own perspective. Discourage interruptions or over talking. Remember that during a change of this kind, traditionally marginalized group members may be hesitant to speak up especially when their opinions don't match up with that of the group. Encourage them to speak up and reassure them it is a safe space to voice their opinions without fear of ridicule, out casting or retaliatory career difficulties.
Assumptions: Give members of marginalized groups the opportunity to demonstrate competency to change the historical assumption of incompetence. "...if employees include everyone in decision making and, over time, find that positive outcomes ensue, they will begin to share this particular belief and it becomes a cultural value." Scott, K., Heathcote, J., & Gruman, J., (2011) Give credit where credit is due. Be vocal about praising members of marginalized communities for their contributions and willingness to come forward with dissenting opinions when necessary.
"...in inclusive organizations, all employees are integral to the mission and vision of the organization because the culture of the organization is such that there is little to no distinction between diverse and majority group employees." (Scott, K, Heathcote, J. & Gruman, J (2011)
Work toward changing the assumptions rooted in bias and racism by being deliberate about denouncing unfair attitudes, policies and behaviors. As artifacts and values reflect the acceptance of diversity and inclusion, assumptions will change. When assumptions change, African Americans (and members of other marginalized groups) will no longer need to wait for a critical mass to have a voice.
Diversity is vital, especially in law enforcement. But it is not enough. To leverage the real power that diversity offers, departments must create a culture of inclusion. Inclusion is the lynchpin connecting the power of diversity to the police/community relationship..
Quincy K. Ruffin has over 15 years of law enforcement experience rising from the rank of security patrol officer to Police Sergeant. He is a subject matter expert in Racial Bias, Diversity and Inclusion. He is a POST certified instructor for Fair and Impartial Policing, Principled Policing and Racial Profiling. Mr. Ruffin has a Bachelor's degree in Psychology from the University of Oregon and a certificate in Diversity and Inclusion from Cornell University.