Over the last year the media’s spotlight has been fixed on African American deaths by police, triggering public outcry and calls for reform. One suggestion to reform the industry is by diversifying it.
According to a report in the Associated Press, a new study published mid-February in Science backs this argument, suggesting that diversity in law enforcement can lead to better outcomes when dealing with people of color.
Co-author of the study and assistant professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania said of current law enforcement, “It’s a system that clearly needs reforming.” Now, this study may provide the hard data to support that claim.
The paper included data from nearly 3 million Chicago Police Department patrol assignments, which indicated that Black and Latino officers were much less likely than White officers to stop, arrest or use force against Black civilians. In addition, it was found that female officers used less force on the whole when compared with their male counterparts.
The study, which contains data pulled from the CPD on 1.6 million enforcements (such as stops and arrests) from nearly 7,000 officers from 2012-2015, provides sufficient evidence that demographics in law enforcement have an effect on policing.
The study found that Black officers made on average 16 fewer stops and 2 fewer arrests compared to White officers in similar scenarios. Knox found the disparity between treatment to be “troubling.”
The difference was at its most stark in majority-Black neighborhoods, especially when it came to minor, non-violent offenses.
Harvard sociologist Joscha Legewie told AP that unlike violent offenses crimes that warrant a similar response, the response to minor offenses like traffic violations and drug possession differ widely depending on the enforcing officer. Of late, many police shooting incidents were triggered by responses to minor infractions, including the death of Laquan Mcdonald in 2014.
However, the study is limited by older data that may not reflect changes made by the CPD. In addition, because it is a case study of Chicago, the results may not be applicable to other areas of the country.
Historically, the city of Chicago has been a hot spot for tension between law enforcement and the African American population. However, recently the city has made strides in reflecting its diversity within the police department, and currently half of its officers are people of color, with more than a fifth being women.
Regina Russel, co-chair at the Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression, said that although the increase in diversity within law enforcement is exciting, diversity alone won’t be enough to solve the problem, but there also needs to be more body cameras, changes in use-of-force policies, more oversight, and more consequences for officers who do harm.
Co-author Roman Rivera believes the study is a “roadmap” for future studies that can gather data on more specific situations in order to address specific improvements police can make.
Despite this, some activists commenting on the study, particularly those within the African American community like Russel, want a complete overhaul of the system, with reallocation of funds to things like healthcare, education, and other community-based programs.