This paper aims to discuss and analyze the impact of culture and diversity on law enforcement. It will explore the presence and extent of cultural diversity in law enforcement agencies, especially the police departments. Finally, it will seek to determine whether there are issues that are emerging on cultural diversity and propose solutions to deal with these matters.
A multicultural community, which is the term that best defines the United States, refers to a community that is made up of a variety of different racial and ethnic groups (Shusta, Levine, Wong, & Harris, 2002). With regards to reception, the fact that the United States is very culturally diverse has been the source of both extreme displeasure and at other times, a joy to the citizens of the state. Where it is a reason for discontent and intolerance, it may escalate and become the reason for increased hate crimes, which are a law enforcement issue (Shusta et al., 2002). The fact that the United States is culturally diverse also means that this situation will trickle down to other agencies and sectors, both public and private. This is the case with the law enforcement agency.
In the recent past, the police department has grown more diverse regarding race, gender, and even sexual orientation, but the rate at which the different departments are embracing cultural diversity are not equal (Sklansky, 2006). The effects of these changes in the demographic of the police departments have been numerous and varied. Sklansky (2006), however, divides them into three:
- Competency effects mostly refer to the way the female, minority or gay and lesbian officers exhibit a wider range of skills and abilities. For example, research has shown that those police officers who come from minority groups adopt a more humane approach to policing and exhibit greater skill in working with vulnerable members of the community (Miller, Forest, & Jurik, 2003).
- Community effects, interrogate how the change in demographics in the police department affects the way the community relates to the police department.
- Organizational effects which explain the way diversity in the workplace can also affect how the organization performs.
About community effects, it has also been argued that diversity in the police department also increases the legitimacy of the department in the eyes of the community and re-assures them that racial prejudice in policing will be minimal (Wasserman, 2010). This would not be the case where the department is mostly made up of one dominant group and a few minority groups. Moreover, a diverse police department also promotes a sense of equality in the community within which it operates because this kind of department is more likely to understand better the positions of the minorities and hence serve their needs better (Fridell, Lunney, Diamond, & Kubu, 2008). Ideally, justice is better served where every group within the community has some representation in the justice system.
Despite the strides that have been made in a bid to increase racial and ethnic diversity in the police departments, there are still complaints concerning the proliferation of female and minority officers in the workplace. Some commentators argue that there is still a disparity in the agency’s ability to fill positions with minority and female officers (Jordan, Fridell, Faggaini, & Kubu, 2009). The methods that they use to attract females and minority groups to fill these positions have also been said to be deficient. The solution to this is suggested to be as follows (Jordan et al., 2009):
- To identify the current strategies that are being employed to attract the minority officers into the advertised positions.
- To measure the success that the agencies have had so far in filling these positions with persons from minority groups.
- To measure the impact that the agencies’ strategies have had in improving the absorption of female and minority groups into their workforces.
By doing this, the agencies can identify whether there are loopholes in their hiring methods and whether they should re-organize their methods for best results. Comeau (2011) argues that regardless of improved diversity within police departments, there are still disparities concerning equal representation in the workplace. He suggests the following measures to improve representation:
- To identify what the needs of the department are to allocate resources better.
- To monitor the times when applications are submitted to identify the times when the departments need to recruit a new workforce.
- To structure their advertisements in a manner that would appeal to diverse cultures and increase chances of fair representation.
- To increase the contact that they have with the community, especially by organizing job fairs or liaising with the community groups.
- Hold sessions of sharing information with the communities to give them the details of recruitment procedures and requirements.
Moreover, Shusta et al. (2002), argue that it is not enough to promote cultural diversity in the police force, but rather, it is also important to train the current workforce in ways of better dealing with the culturally diverse community. They refer to this skill as cultural competence and explain that it is a skill that is nurtured and developed over an extended period. The following are steps that can be taken to develop the ability of cultural competence:
- Developing a set of principles, rules, and policies that will enable the workforce to understand the standards with regards to working across cultures
- Developing their capacity to acquire and put to use the cross-cultural knowledge
- Increase the officer’s ability to communicate and respond to the cultural contexts that they are operating in. For example, how a police officer would react to rape within a heterosexual setting is not the same manner that they would where the offense is committed by a perpetrator of the same sex. New skills and competencies have to be developed to deal with the latter situation.
In conclusion, it is a fact that cultural diversity has increased in police departments to mirror the situation in the country. The United States is a culturally diverse nation with a vast percentage of the population comprising of minority groups. The effect of this is that organizations that are meant to serve the needs of the people, especially in criminal justice have to ensure that justice is administered fairly and equally across the various groups in the community. The first method that has been adopted is to ensure representation of most of the clusters in the different departments. Be that as it may, there are still lapses that have been identified which must be dealt with to improve the quality of services that are rendered to the community. Furthermore, positive measures have to be taken to encourage the diverse groups to participate in law enforcement, and finally, the officers have to be instructed and trained in matters relating to different cultural settings. This will improve their competency in dealing with persons from various cultural groups thereby making them more efficient in their jobs.
Comeau, M. J. (2011). Representation and recruitment: A three-part analysis of the police hiring process within New York State. New York, NY: Rochester Institute of Technology.
Fridell, L., Lunney, R., Diamond, D., & Kubu, B. (2008). Racially biased policing: a principled response. Washington DC: Police Executive Research Forum.
Jordan, W. T., Fridell, L., Faggaini, D., & Kubu, D. (2009). Attracting females and racial/ethnic minorities to law enforcement. Journal of Criminal Justice, 37(4), 333-341.
Miller, S. L., Forest, K. B., & Jurik, N. C. (2003). Diversity in blue: Lesbian and gay police officers in masculine occupation. Men and Masculinities, 5(4), 355-35.
Shusta, R. M., Levine, D. R., Wong, H. Z., & Harris, P. R. (2002). Multicultural Law Enforcement: Strategies for peacekeeping in a diverse society. New York, NY: Pearson Education.
Sklansky, D. A. (2006). Not your father’s police department: making sense of the new demographics of law enforcement. The Journal of Criminal Law & Criminology, 96(3), 1209-1243.
Wasserman, R. (2010). Guidance for building communities of trust. Washington DC: Office of Community Oriented Policing Services.