Homophily and Police Diversity

An important lesson in homophily and minority representation in law enforcement follows the recent death of teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO.  According to fivethirtyeight.com, the town, despite being 60% black, has only three black police officers, and there is evidence to suggest that a police force that is not reflective of its community creates more tension and brutality than a more representative force.

Nationally, whites are overrepresented in law enforcement by 30 percentage points.  It is clear that a police force that looks like the community it protects leads to less police violence and a greater feeling of overall safety in the community.  Los Angeles is given as an example in the article because the force has, in recent years, undergone serious change to diversify.  According to a Kennedy School study, “We found the LAPD much changed from eight years ago, and even more so in the last four or five years. Public satisfaction is up, with 83 percent of residents saying the LAPD is doing a good or excellent job; the frequency of the use of serious force has fallen each year since 2004.”

A main reason that more diverse forces are more effective is the level of trust of the community.  Community members exhibit homophily, meaning that they feel safer and more connected to people who look and act like they do.  While black officers may be able to better communicate with and get cooperation from black citizens, it is clear that most of the benefit of the diverse force comes simply from the fact that the law enforcement looks like the community it is representing and therefore exhibits homophily.  According to a sergeant in Atlanta, “…so every race, gender, sexual preference, religion, whatever it is, you can look up in the command staff and identify someone who is the same as you. And if you need to reach out to anyone with a problem, someone in that command staff is similar to you with whom you can have a candid conversation.”



One thought on “Homophily and Police Diversity”

  1. While I agree police diversity is an issue and influences police brutality; I think the emphasis on the lack of diversity ignores that police brutality is a structural issue in which the people are simply leaves on the tree and not the roots. I would argue the framing of Blacks as a threatening criminals and the militarization are the true issues here. Moreover, the structural issues lead to things like a lack of diversity. Nevertheless, I understand your post and agree with your overall point

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