For years, the law enforcement profession has struggled to increase the number of female and minority officers within the ranks. Law enforcement leaders continually beat the drum for diversity and have been doing so for decades. Despite the efforts, the criticism once again is that the lack of diversity is a byproduct of “systemic racism” within the profession. This is a thorny topic of discussion, but it must be addressed. We must acknowledge where there is room for improvement, yet we cannot ignore the fact that challenges have always existed and will continue to plague the efforts.
First and foremost, let me state without question: Racism and discrimination must never be tolerated in any manner in any profession. In a perfect world, every diverse candidate applying to be a police officer gets a job and has a successful career. But the sheer reality of recruitment and vetting is that not everyone meets the qualifications and standards of the profession. This applies to all genders and ethnicities.
The goal of recruiting and retaining diverse police officers is nothing new. What is new is that there now seems to be an emerging trend of making unattainable, virtue-signaling commitments to increase diversity in order to allay the criticism from the zealots. A classic and parallel example is the airline industry. Recently, a major U.S. carrier publicly announced that they intend to ensure that half of their 5,000 new pilots will be women and people of color by 2030. This is a lofty goal and would be a remarkable feat if attainable. The problem is that the airline industry, much like law enforcement, has been recruiting from the candidate pool for years with an eye toward diversity but has not yet been able to reach this quota. Why not? Simply, it’s because the requirements set forth to ensure that the most competent people are hired have always been the primary consideration. This does not imply that diverse candidates are not as qualified as others. It merely indicates that there just aren’t enough competent candidates of all ethnicities and genders to meet the rigorous requirements of being a commercial airline pilot. The industry plans to provide financial assistance to prospective candidates, but many other barriers will continue to exist.
Each year, thousands of people apply for the job of police officer, yet relatively few are successful. This is not necessarily because of discriminatory practices. It is because the qualifications and training regimen are stringent. Police officers are a lot like airline pilots in that they are entrusted to make decisions that are a matter of life or death. To this end, we must ask ourselves: Do we want the most competent people flying our planes and making decisions in the deployment of deadly force, or do we want the most “diverse” people who may not necessarily be the most competent? In the ideal scenario, we want both, but historically, we have chosen to err on the side of competence. Does society now want diversity to be the preeminent consideration over competency?
The LE profession absolutely needs to be sensitive to the call for diversity. For those agencies that have not made it a priority for whatever reason, the time has come to re-evaluate. Most forward-thinking, larger agencies have had their eye on diversity in hiring for years and have made great progress in this regard. This has always been the goal. Unfortunately, the outcome (i.e., the results of the efforts) are not always in sync with the goals. This is by no fault of their own or for lack of trying. The message would be that the call for diversity is real and present, and every LE agency must give introspection to determine whether they have embraced it or fallen short. Make the adjustments accordingly. However, the LE profession must not cave to the pressure of chasing the quota numbers at the expense of lowering standards or creating disparity within the existing ranks. Everyone must ask themselves: Who do I want to show up to deal with a life-or-death situation when I call the police: the most competent person or the person who was hired to meet a diversity quota? To that end, which pilot do you want in the cockpit of your aircraft?
Agencies must not allow the push for diversity to undermine the standards and ethos of the LE profession. Try as hard as possible to recruit and retain the best, but know that criticism will always be omnipresent regardless of the effort. It might be a good idea to reach out to faith-based organizations or non-governmental organizations to assist in the diversity effort. If the outcome is not what the critics had hoped for, at least the effort can be accentuated. These are not new challenges, but fresh ideas may help in some small way.