7 tips for building a diverse police workforce

The majority of citizens don’t care about the race of the officer who shows up when they call as long as they are treated with respect. However, departments across the country are being pressed to hire workforces that are reflective of the communities they serve.

As law enforcement agencies around the country scramble to diversify their workforces, many of them are struggling with how to go about doing so. Having a diverse workforce is important because it may help establish trust between law enforcement and the communities we serve. Diversifying law enforcement agencies is not without controversy because some consider changing recruiting strategies and hiring practices as lowering job standards. Our profession is generally slow to change and from my experience most in law enforcement say they like change but don’t. This is just one of many facets that make the topic of diversifying our profession tricky.

Fortunately, I have had the opportunity to travel around our great country in recent months and I have found that many people in law enforcement want to increase diversity within their respective organizations – they just need some guidance. Here are some tips for recruiting a diverse police workforce. This is a complex and difficult topic, and the below list is certainly not exhaustive or complete, but these thoughts can help you and your agency begin to move toward the objective of a more diverse workforce. Add your own ideas in the comments section below.

1.    Have committed leadership: The chief law enforcement officer must be committed to diversifying their department. There is nothing more important to the successful diversification of a department then having leadership that is committed to, and has a vision for diversifying their organization.

2.    Use targeted marketing: Marketing towards communities of color should feature the community service aspects of the job as opposed to tactical aspects. Recruiting videos with fast music and lots of lights and SWAT action may not be the best type of recruiting video for targeting diverse candidates.

This notion was discussed at length during my presentations this summer at Latino and Black Police Officer Associations national conferences. Many conference attendees stated they felt as though recruiting videos that target minority candidates should focus on the community service aspects of the job. As one conference attendee put it, “The fast action recruiting videos are not successful at attracting minority candidates so we need to feature the things that we do everyday like playing sports with kids, and helping people in our recruiting videos.”

I would suggest looking at the recruiting video for the New Orleans Police Department as example. NOPD is one of the most racially balanced police departments in the country and they have done a good job of attracting diverse candidates to their organization despite many of their other challenges.

I have also found that becoming a police officer for many minority officers was their ticket out of poverty. Highlighting the financial benefits of the job and the positives your community has to offer them (eg. schools, affordable housing) may help attract diverse candidates to your organization.

3.    Consider nationwide recruiting: Some agencies simply may not have qualified candidates within their area, so conducting nationwide recruiting could help bring diverse candidates to your agency.

For instance, if your agency is located in the northeastern portion of the country, you could consider recruiting in states like Michigan, Illinois, Missouri, or other states that have somewhat similar climates but may not pay as well. Agencies that recruit nationwide effectively are doing a good job of hiring workforces that closely mirror the communities that they serve.

4.    Recruit at college athletic departments: Small colleges in rural areas often do a great job of recruiting diverse athletes to their campuses and many of these athletes major in social sciences. Their physical condition and ability to work in a team setting provide them with some inherently desirable law enforcement characteristics.

5.    Nurture a positive reputation: The Oxford Handbook of Recruitment written by Daniel M. Cable, states that an “organizations ability to recruit minority applicants is based on its diversity reputation or image.” It goes on to state that if an organization wants to target minority applicants it should have a positive diversity image.

If your organization has a negative reputation among officers of color or minority community members you may have a difficult time attracting diverse candidates. Organizations that are successful at attracting diverse candidates normally have a reputation among officers of color as being welcoming and accepting of all officers regardless of race.

6.    Develop your own young recruits: Start engaging with youth in middle school. Your agency may want to consider having an Explorer program that focuses of developing diverse candidates for your agency, which could allow your agency to develop a career track for diverse candidates that progresses them from Explorer to officer over a period of years.

Growing your own diverse workforce may take some time but the workforce you hire and develop today will be the workforce you have tomorrow. It is also a great way to build positive neighbor relations.

7.    Partner with minority officer associations: Organizations such as the National Latino Police Officer Association, National Black Police Officer Association, National Asian Police Officer Association, and the local chapters of the International Association of Women Police do an excellent job of mentoring diverse candidates.

Each of these associations has had many of their student members go on to become police officers. Having a partnership with organizations such as these can also help build relationships and assist your departments recruiting efforts.

Police department demographics will continue to be a topic of national discussion, so it is in our best interests to hire workforces that are reflective of the communities we serve. It won’t solve all the perceived problems surrounding our profession but it may lessen them in some instances.

About the author

Dr. Booker Hodges has been a police officer for ten years and currently holds the rank of Sergeant. He currently serves as an overnight Patrol Watch Commander for the third most populous county in the state of Minnesota. He has worked as a school resource officer, patrol deputy, gang detective, and SWAT operator. Dr. Hodges is the only active police officer in the history of the NAACP to serve as a branch president, which he did for five years. During his tenure he helped many police officers avoid the perils of not understanding life in the fishbowl. Dr. Hodges is widely regarded as an expert on police and neighborhood relations. Dr. Hodges has the unique experience of being a former community activist and police officer. Dr. Hodges has bachelors in criminology and political science from Florida Southern College, a Masters of Arts in Public Safety Administration from St. Mary’s University, and a Doctorate in Public Administration from Hamline University.

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