I recently wrote about a study that found that White or male police officers are more likely to use force or arrest someone than Black or female police officers. The study suggested that departments should hire more Black and female police officers in order to promote de-escalation.
While it’s true that there should definitely be more diversity in hiring for police departments, a new article in The Crime Report adds a horrible wrinkle to this problem.
It shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise, but the police culture that results in White officers disproportionately arresting, searching, and using force against minority populations is also hostile toward minority groups within police departments.
In interviews with current and former law enforcement officers, Black officers spoke about the racism they experienced from other officers, and the failure of leadership to address the problems. Officers who spoke out against being harassed were more likely to face negative consequences than the officers that caused the problems in the first place.
In other words, we’re asking Black people to join police departments so that we can have better outcomes with police-citizen interactions, and at the same time we’re ignoring the harassment that they have to deal with once they join those police departments.
This is a problem that will not be fixed by police departments. It requires city management to start holding police departments accountable for these kinds of issues. Cities need to start taking a close look at their police departments and their police officers, and city leaders need to start taking firm actions against police leaders who don’t address the problems.
These problems aren’t invisible. They’re not even hiding. To find systemic racism in policing, all you have to do is look at the data. To find individual racism against Black officers, all you have to do is ask Black officers. To find officers who disproportionately use force or make arrests, all you have to do (again) is look at the data.
In August of last year, Gallup released an annual poll that showed only 48% of US adults trusted the police. This was the first time in the poll’s history (dating back to 1973) that the number had ever gone below 50%. City leaders need to respond to this by reshaping police departments into institutions that the public can trust.
In The Crime Report article mentioned above, an officer is quoted as saying, “American policing is broken. The Black officer has an opportunity at this time to help reform it.”
We cannot put the responsibility for reform squarely on Black police officers. It is unfair and immoral. There is nothing stopping White police officers from doing the right thing, and we should expect nothing less. If any officer does not treat citizens and fellow officers with respect and dignity, they should not be a police officer. If any officer treats citizens or fellow officers differently because of their race, they should not be a police officer.
It is a straight-forward process to identify these problems and to correct them. All that it requires is leadership.
For the past four years, we saw on a national scale how much damage inept leadership can cause. Who we choose to put into power matters. And that’s true both for the President of the United States and for the mayor of your home town. Vote in every election, and make sure your local elected officials understand the importance of accountability in policing.
This post was previously published on Medium.
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