Last month, the Minneapolis Police Department celebrated the graduation of its first new recruiting class in three years.
Seven of the 13 new officers are members of minorities, a step in the right direction for Minneapolis police Chief Janeé Harteau’s mission to diversify the department, said Minneapolis police Sgt. Steve McCarty.
“People identify with people who are similar to them,” McCarty said. “It just makes good business sense to have diversity.”
The percentage of minority officers in the Minneapolis police force has risen by almost 5 percentage points since 2001.
Diversity among officers and how they reflect the demographics of the communities they serve is a problem for many police departments, McCarty said.
The University of Minnesota Police Department has only three minority officers among its total of 50, according to University police Chief Greg Hestness.
“It’s a struggle for everybody because the hiring opportunities are slim,” he said.
University police rarely have the budget to hire more officers due to the small size of the department, Hestness said, so it’s difficult to diversify the department.
“We can’t really do the recruiting if you’re not going to have a job available for two to three years,” he said. “There’s more opportunity in the city.”
Another problem University police face is a lack of qualified minorities in their recruiting pool, he said.
“You can’t just hire anybody,” Hestness said. “They have to be licensable.”
One proposal Hestness has to diversify his department is to introduce a cadet program that would pay for a recruit’s education and training.
If the recruit completes the training, he or she would be promoted to an officer in the University police, he said. If the officer chooses to leave University police, he or she would have to pay the department back for the training.
“It’s a way of balancing quality with diversity,” he said.
Hestness said he believes once University police hire a few more minority officers, others will see the department as an attractive place to work.
“When you have a few minority officers in the door of your department, it starts getting easier,” he said. “They know they’re welcome in your department.”
Importance of diversity
A 2003 study published by the Policy Studies Journal reported that racial diversity in police departments is important because it increases police empathy with minority residents.
According to the study, minority officers are more familiar with minority cultures, and they can help spread that knowledge to other officers in the department.
A diverse police force is especially necessary on a university campus, said Kenneth Brown, former chair of the Minneapolis Commission on Civil Rights.
“The community is so diverse,” he said. “If you only have a one-sided view of the world, you’re not going to treat everybody with respect.”
Having a diverse group of officers allows residents to better relate to the police and makes them feel safer, Hestness said.
“If you have a couple of minority officers working a diverse community, it’s not going to be seen as targeting,” he said. “Not that it’s fair, but that’s the reality of it.”
Minneapolis police have tested the theory by adding Somali cops to patrol the West Bank community, McCarty said.
Although he said he thinks Somali residents may be more comfortable with the Somali officers, it is difficult to tangibly compare the success of those officers against white officers.
The University community is one of the most diverse areas in the Twin Cities, so Hestness said he isn’t satisfied with the current demographics of his department.
“I feel like the time is due,” he said. “The time is due for us to be reflective of how diverse our city is and how diverse our campus is.”