US Police Forces See Decline in Diversity as More Black Cops Sign Off

In Summary

In the ‘90s, police departments made a big push to recruit more Black officers, but they're now seeing a rapid decline in Black members of the force. 

Police departments made a big push in the ‘90s to recruit more Black officers, both to diversify their ranks and deflate the tensions and violence flaring up in cities between officers and Black civilians. 

Fast forward to the present day, and the same police departments are seeing a rapid decline of Black members of the force—at a time when trust in police is more fraught than ever. The decline is attributed, in part, to officers retiring once they’re of age and a need for change in recruitment efforts. 

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Charles Wilson, chair of the National Association of Black Law Enforcement Officers, says Black members on the force police “significantly different” than their counterparts. 

“We understand the concept that we as professionals have to be guardians in the community, as opposed to the concept of being warriors in the community,” he shared with BNC’s Jenyne Donaldson. 

While major cities in America have historically had a more diverse police force than smaller communities, the number of Black and Brown officers in those departments are shrinking as well. Reporting official data is nearly impossible since there are more than 18,000 police departments across the country, but a look into major United States cities is a good starting point. 

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According to data from local departments, there’s been a 14% decrease in Black officers from within the New York City Police Department between 2008 and 2020, per Donaldson. In Philadelphia, where a Black woman is now the police commissioner, there’s been a 19% drop since 2017.  

In Chicago, the number of Black officers dropped 12% since 2019 and the Los Angeles Police Department has experienced a 24% drop over the past 10 years. 

“You look at the availability of these positions, you look at the hiring standards. There have always been roadblocks to getting into this profession and now there may be even more roadblocks; some of them we don’t impose on ourselves, they’re imposed on us by the process,” law enforcement expert Matthew Horace told Donaldson. 

He added, “When you look at the events of the last 24 to 36 months, I think there’s a lack of will in many cases, and a lack of desire to get into a profession that many don’t see as being a part of the solution, but more a part of the problem.”  

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Wilson stresses the importance of a change in recruitment, saying, “It’s almost an issue of they recruit at us, not for us.” He added that the force doesn’t do a lot of “significant contact” with organizations such as the National Advancement for the Association of Colored People (NAACP), the National Urban League, faith communities and social and fraternity organizations. 

While about 15% of police academy recruits nationwide are Black and Brown, they don’t always make it to the force, with Wilson saying the current institution of policing is “inherently biased against people of color and low income, and it was designed to be that way.” 

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