Police brutality is a social issue of considerable magnitude in the contemporary United States. It is understandable that violence and killing can be necessary for police work, for example, when interacting with armed and dangerous criminals who pose an immediate threat to public safety. Yet, it is not so much the fact of violence itself – although it can also be unprovoked – but the demographic distribution of said killing between the different groups of the American population that raises questions. Statistically speaking, police brutality and police killing target racial minorities, especially Black people, to a much greater degree than the white population. The nationwide proliferation of the Black Lives Matter movement may serve as a testimony to the importance of the issue. That raises a legitimate question of what is the best strategy to reduce police brutality and address racial disparities. Racial and gender diversification of the force is the best strategy to address police brutality because it enhances police-community relations, introduces non-violent methods of apprehending suspects, and reduces the possibility of extreme use of force.
Overview of the Paper
This paper aims to show that the problem of police brutality correlates with the lack of diversity within the police force. Having a predominantly white and male police force contributes to rampant cases of excessive and unwarranted use of force by the police. By analyzing statistics from various studies done on this topic, this essay shows that diversification of the police force is the best strategy to address police brutality in the United States. It also delves into specific ways in which having a diverse force will contribute toward the desired outcome of ending police brutality. For instance, having more Black police officers will improve police-community relations, while having more female officers will reduce the androcentric police culture that contributes to police brutality. The paper also discusses why other proposed solutions such as body cams, organizational changes, and sensitivity training are not as effective as diversification. Aside from making a case for the diversification of the police force, this essay analyzes the necessary steps toward this. Ultimately, the goal is to present sufficient evidence for the need to diversify the police force to curb police brutality.
Quantifying Police Brutality
Before discussing the solutions to the issue of police brutality in the United States, it is necessary to provide data that outlines the problem. Precise data on the matter is elusive because even the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) program aggregating data on police-civilian interactions is not mandatory for police departments to participate (Tregle et al. 26). According to a non-government-affiliated project, the average yearly number of police killings in the United States fluctuates between 1100 and 1200 cases (“Police Violence Map”). More than one-quarter of this number is stated to be African Americans, which is rough twice their share of the population. Scholarly sources have also placed the estimated number of African American fatalities resulting from police-civilian encounters at around 300 per year, corroborating this data (Bor et al. 302). There is also data that African Americans are less likely to be shot when arrested for violent crimes or weapons offenses, suggesting that when they are shot, they are likely unarmed (Tregle et al. 24). Thus, there is a statistically significant trend of police brutality disproportionally targeting minorities, especially Black people, which calls for solutions.
Police Force Composition by Race and Gender
The American police force can generally be described as homogenous as it comprises mostly white men. Approximately 67% of police officers are white, which means that about two-thirds of the police body is comprised of people from one race (“Data USA: Police Officers”). In contrast, Black officers comprise only about 12.4% of the police population (“Data USA: Police Officers”). This discrepancy highlights the underrepresentation of Black people and other minority races in the police force. In terms of gender, about 85% of police officers are male, while female officers make up only 15% of the police force ((“Data USA: Police Officers”).). Female underrepresentation in the force can be explained by the dominant belief that police work is a male domain. Most people believe that policing is work that should be done by men. Additionally, women refrain from applying for the police academy because of the notion that police work involves dangerous and aggressive encounters with civilians as well as with male officers (U.S. Department of Justice). Underrepresentation of certain races and one gender is a key issue within the police force. The homogeneity of the police body could be a reason why police brutality is so rampant in the United States.
How Racial Diversification will Address Police Brutality
Diversification of the police staffing seems to be the optimal approach to solve police brutality, particularly because the greater racial variety of the force can make it more representative of the community it polices. Evidence suggests that this proximity may make the force more apprehensive of the needs of the community they service without sacrificing the efficiency of law and order enforcement. Carter points out that the police departments that are “more reflective of the communities they patrol” decrease the risks of police brutality occurring (553). Black and Hispanic officers are less likely to harass civilians from minority groups as compared to their white counterparts (Ba et al. 701). It is important to note that this difference in enforcement does not extend to serious crimes and mainly concerns the cases of minor offenses or no offenses at all. In other words, Black or Hispanic officers react just as vigorously to crimes that represent a serious threat to public safety but are less likely to stop an individual on the grounds of “suspicious behavior” (Ba et al. 699). These statistics showcase the benefits of racial diversification of the police force.
A diverse and inclusive police population would help reduce the perceived group threat between the police and the general Black population. When a police department, especially one policing a predominantly Black neighborhood, comprises mostly white people, an “us versus them” mentality is bound to develop. This phenomenon is also known as the “blue versus black” mentality, and it refers to tensions between Black people and the police (Fagan and Legewie). The police see themselves as representative of the white population. They perceive Black people as a political, economic, and safety threat. They hold beliefs that Black people will overpower them politically and economically (Fagan and Legewie). Others believe that they pose a safety concern, citing Black-on-white crimes. Consequently, police officers are likely to use unwarranted force when dealing with Black citizens. In turn, Black people are apprehensive of the police, thus creating the group threat discussed. The solution to de-escalate tensions between these two populations is to make the police force more reflective of the communities they serve. When there are Black people within a police force, they help reduce group threat.
Diversification reduces group threat and attenuates tensions between the police and the (Black) community. The presence of Black officers within the force increases police legitimacy. Research shows that the characteristics of public officials affect public attitudes, perceptions, and behavior toward bureaucracies (Fagan and Legewie). For instance, Black people become more trusting of a police force when it comprises Black people. They are more trusting of officers who look like them because they assume they understand their experiences. They are also perceived to be empathetic because of a shared sense of kinship. For instance, the National Black Police Association actively pushes for legislation and reforms to end racial profiling and police brutality (Fagan and Legewie). Therefore, the solution to police brutality is to have more diverse and inclusive forces to diffuse tension between the police and the people they are meant to protect. Diverse forces reduce group threats and decrease the likelihood of the police using unnecessary force in their interactions with civilians.
Another way in which diversification of the police force can solve police brutality is when Black police officers help initiate structural changes from within the force. Having a racially diverse police department increases the frequency of interracial interactions. This could reduce the prejudice and stereotypes that some white officers hold about Black people, therefore decreasing the probability that they will resort to force when they encounter Black people. Moreover, their sensitivity and empathy can reverberate within the department, thereby causing institutional changes (Fagan and Legewie). Although it is not the responsibility of Black people to help white people unlearn racial biases, the presence of Black police officers within the force may help this cause. Additionally, this presence may weaken the harmful solidarity displayed within the police force (Fagan and Legewie). Police officers, particularly in homogenously white departments, are notoriously known for covering up for each other even after committing an injustice against a civilian. Minority officers undermine blind solidarity within the police department. Knowing that their colleagues will not defend them unconditionally will deter the police from using excessive force against civilians.
How Gender Diversification will Address Police Brutality
Gender diversification of the police force can help combat police brutality by reducing toxic masculinity inherent in local law enforcement, which is associated with violence. The police force has a predominantly masculine culture. Police service is associated with machismo, which calls for officers to exert their dominance over citizens. For instance, qualities such as being unapproachable, hardy, and aggressive are deemed to be desirable traits for a police officer. Police officers are expected to display traditionally male traits such as these. The “manlier” an officer presents, the more praiseworthy they are considered. These traits are associated with violence, which translates to police brutality (Harvey). The presence of more female officers within the force will help counteract the violent approach to issues. Female police officers are better at negotiating hostile situations because they resort to communication rather than violence (U.S. Department of Justice). Additionally, research shows that the risk of a suspect being injured and the overall risk of violence decreases when a female officer is involved in a situation (Harvey). Therefore, gender diversification of the force will help dilute toxic masculinity culture within local law enforcement, thereby reducing and eventually ending police brutality.
Similarly, gender diversification also has a significant promise in terms of reducing the rates of police brutality in the United States. Empirical evidence demonstrates that female officers from any racial group generally make fewer arrests per the same number of shifts as compared to males (Ba et al. 700). They use force less often and are less likely to target minorities than their male counterparts (Ba et al. 700). Admittedly, one may opt to explain this disparity through the physical difference between the sexes, but this explanation would hold little merit. Using violence in contemporary policing depends on technical means, such as Tasers or firearms, to a much greater degree than muscular strength, and female officers have the same equipment as males. It is more likely that the explanation is psychological rather than physical. According to Bergman et al., female officers are less psychologically likely “to engage in extreme use of force” than their male counterparts (591). This weighed approach to violence characteristic of female officers may also be beneficial for reducing the rates of police brutality.
Illustration of the Benefit of Diversification
A useful example to illustrate the potential positive impact of diversifying the police would be Chicago. It is particularly suitable because Chicago has some of the greatest rates of police brutality, disproportionally targeting minorities in the USA. Police killings of blacks have been occurring 22 times more often than those of whites across 2013-2020, which is one of the highest disparities in American metropolitan areas (“Police Violence Map”). A study of Chicago police demonstrated that Black officers made 31 percent fewer stops for “suspicious behavior,” and their rate of the use of force against minorities is 38 percent lower (Ba et al. 699). Similarly, Hispanic officers make 6 percent fewer stops, and the rate of their use of force is 12 percent lower than that of white officers (Ba et al. 700). As for the female officers of the Chicago police, they are 28 percent less likely to use force against civilians (Ba et al. 700). This example shows that diversification of police can produce a significant reduction in police brutality even in the locations that demonstrate some of the highest rates of police violence in the country.
Some people may argue that the best possible solution to the issue of police brutality is purely technical, such as the ubiquitous use of body cameras and dashboard cameras. The reasoning is straightforward: if every case of violence in police-civilian interactions, including unmotivated use of force, is documented, it would be much easier to ensure justice for everyone involved. Such an approach can be useful for both police officers and civilians because it would provide true-to-fact information on individual cases. Apart from that, recordings from dash-mounted and body cameras can serve as justification for reasonable complaints on civilians’ part or help to “exonerate an officer who is… accused of wrongdoing” without due reason (Carter 553). However, this solution can only be sufficiently effective if the recordings in question are “released as soon as possible,” which is not necessarily the case (Carter 553). Moreover, this approach only concerns what is to be done when an instance of police brutality has already occurred, but not what can be done to prevent it. Hence, while technical measures are a necessary component, one cannot adopt them as the main strategy to address police brutality.
Another possible solution that is often advocated as a way to address police brutality and the disproportionate targeting of minorities, as well as other related issues, is organizational change. The strength of this approach is that it recognizes it will likely take “more than firing or disciplining the bad apples on the force” to solve the problem (Masur and McAdams, 140). Rather, it requires suppressing informal codes of loyalty which stress the support for fellow officers even in the cases of unjustified use of force. One of the evident steps is appointing special prosecutors to alleviate the threat of bias due to local prosecutors and police departments working together (Carter 552). While quite sound, this approach suffers from the same downside that the one described in the previous paragraph: it is reactive rather than proactive and only addresses police brutality after it has occurred. Thus, one may agree that organizational change is also a necessary component of the overall strategy to address police brutality but not the best option if one aims to prevent it.
Other groups of people also suggest that the solution to police brutality is sensitivity training. This refers to any form of teaching to help officers become aware of their biases and how they may affect their performance. Implicit bias refers to attitudes and stereotypes about certain groups that people have without their conscious knowledge. Sensitivity training aims at bringing these prejudices to the surface and helping the officers manage them. According to a study conducted on the New York Police Department, the proportion of officers who believe that policing based on stereotypes can make police unsafe increased post-training (Kaste). The training also made more officers aware that implicit biases can lead to unwarranted aggressive responses. However, while implicit bias training changes thinking, it does not appear to change behavior. The study revealed that enforcement behavior remained the same before and after training, which shows that implicit bias training is ineffective in curbing police brutality (Kaste). Furthermore, mandating officers to attend this training could increase resistance on their part, thereby reducing their effectiveness in modifying even cognition. Overall, sensitivity training would not significantly solve the problem of police brutality.
How to Diversify the Police Force
With the overwhelming evidence of the positive changes that race and gender diversity will bring to the police force, it is only logical to evaluate how best to achieve this outcome. Hiring guidelines that include requirements not related to the job unfairly dismiss some applicants. For instance, credit reports are unfair to applicants from low-income Black neighborhoods, which consequently leads to such neighborhoods being over-policed by white officers (Mungo). Similarly, women are unfairly disqualified by physical fitness requirements such as the ability to do a given number of pushups (U.S. Department of Justice). There is no evidence that shows these requirements correlate with the ability to perform police work effectively. Instead, they exclude certain applicants who would otherwise have joined the force and increased diversity. Discrimination is also witnessed in disciplinary treatment, promotions, and other career-advancing assignments (Mungo). This means that female and Black officers face challenges not just when trying to join the police force but also after joining. Whether intentional or not, discriminatory practices deter a lot of female and minority populations from applying.
Diversifying the police force necessitates changes in the recruitment and hiring processes. Discriminatory hiring policies and practices effectively bar women and Black people from applying to be police officers. The first obvious change that needs to happen is a radical amendment to employment standards and criteria (Mungo). Recruitment, hiring, promotion, and other employment practices should be reevaluated and rid of institutional racism and sexism. Next, there should be changes to ensure that local law enforcement culture is guided by procedural justice, community, policy, and cultural inclusivity (Espiritu 11). This includes engaging stakeholders from within and outside law enforcement to help create a workforce that is reflective of the community it polices. Finally, there is a need to divest from the white androcentric culture dominant within the police force. Women report disinterest in joining a workplace where they will be not only facing harassment but also be expected to perform masculinity to be taken seriously (U.S. Department of Justice). Therefore, to realize the gains from a diverse police force, it is critical to ensure that local law enforcement agencies are places where women and Black people would actually enjoy working.
From the foregoing, diversification of the police force is the optimal strategy to address the acute issue of police brutality and especially it’s disproportionate targeting of minorities. While there are other proposed solutions, such as improved technical means for monitoring police work or organizational change, they only aim at addressing police brutality after it has occurred instead of preventing it from occurring. Evidence shows that minority officers are just as uncompromising in fighting crimes that present a high threat to public safety but are less prone to stop for suspicious behavior or other highly discretionary reasons. The presence of Black people within the police force would also improve police-community relations and increase police legitimacy. On the other hand, female police officers are less likely to engage in extreme use of force. They are also better at handling hostile situations and de-escalating situations where their male counterparts would have resorted to violence. With this in mind, race and gender diversification of the police force appears to be the best currently available strategy to address police brutality in the United States.
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