A retired New York City police executive officer believes that hiring more Black officers is not as important as having cops who care, saying that officers must understand the socioeconomic issues affecting communities of color.
“It’s not about hiring more African-American or Black officers, it’s about hiring more conscious officers who are going to respect the community,” retired New York Police Department executive officer Corey Pegues, author of the book Once A Cop: The Street, The Law, Two Worlds, One Man, told NewsOne. “You need officers who will respect the culture.”
Pegues’ comments come in response to a new study, titled “Will More Black Cops Matter? Officer Race and Police-Involved Homicides of Black Citizens,” which delves into the perennial question of whether increasing the number of Black officers in major city police departments will help decrease police violence in communities of color.
The study, released as the nation grapples with policing in communities of color, also comes at the same time the Department of Justice reached critical agreements with Baltimore and Chicago officials over patterns of poor police training, abuse of excessive force, and racial bias during probes into officer misconduct.
Researchers Sean and Jill Nicholson-Crotty and Sergio Fernandez from Indiana University’s School of Public and Environmental Affairs reveals that adding more Black cops is not a viable strategy for reversing the painful pattern of fatal shootings of Blacks by police officers in recent years.
“This particular project was sparked by suggestions after Ferguson and similar unfortunate incidents,” S. Nicholson-Crotty told NewsOne about the upcoming study, which will appear in the Public Administration Review as part of the journal’s special focus on policing.
It was the deadly shootings of several unarmed Black men, including Michael Brown, at the hands of police that posited the idea of increased representation as a central part of the national narrative about police reform, Nicholson-Crotty acknowledged.
The killing of Brown by White officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri, shot a deep pain through the nation’s heart in August 2014. Videos of the young man’s lifeless body lying in the street were not enough for a grand jury to indict Wilson. Hope within the Black community diminished, but hundreds kept pushing for inclusion as a proposed solution to police-involved deaths.
Nicholson-Crotty’s study sought to test this solution.
“One of the reasons that I think the study is novel because as I’ve said, there have been other studies of the correlation between percent African-American on police forces and other outcomes like stops, arrests, things like that,” Nicholson-Crotty said. “[But] there haven’t been studies on encounters with police by race, because the data hasn’t existed systemically until groups like Mapping Police Violence and The Washington Post began putting it together.”
Researchers noted that existing studies about other types of policing outcomes, including the “use of lethal force where victims are not distinguished by race,” do not provide clear predictions about whether adding more Black cops leads to reduced police-involved deaths.
The team studied papers such as “The Impact of Police Officer Diversity on Police-Caused Homicides” — from The Policy Studies Journal in 2003 — which stated the majority of police homicide studies don’t acknowledge that personnel composition of police agencies may affect police violence levels. This policy paper focused on the impact of police force demographics on killings, but did not include the races of victims in police homicides because of limited information sources.
However, the “Police Officer Diversity” paper cited data on minority representation within city police forces, saying representation slowly increased in the 1970s, with “large” police departments employing forces made up of 14 percent African-Americans on average in 1996.
Finding more helpful and recent data on police encounters that included race demographics, researchers examined data on the number of police homicides during 2014 and 2015 from advocacy organization Mapping Police Violence and The Washington Post.
Indiana’s research team also presented the theories of representative bureaucracy and critical mass — ideas detailing the point when a police force reaches a high enough percentage of Black officers that the officers feel compelled to advocate for communities of color and their interests — to draw more consistent connections between past studies.
The team concluded that the relationship between Black representation and police-involved homicides of Blacks can change when a critical mass is achieved within a police department, but reaching critical mass may never result in less deaths of African-Americans during cop encounters. Simply increasing the percent of Black cops is not an effective policy solution for a “vast majority” of cities, with The Washington Post data having suggested that a representation increase can lead to more deaths, researchers added.
In places such as Ferguson — where Blacks are only 11 percent of the police force — efforts to increase inclusion may cause more violent cop and community interactions until critical mass is reached, researchers also said in the study. However, cities such as Baltimore and New Orleans — which are above the threshold for critical mass — could see a slight reduction in homicides with added Black cops.
Continuing the conversation about Black officers and cop-involved homicides, Nicholson-Crotty believes that community policing is a subject worth exploring down the road.
“[We want] to understand how things like problem-solving partnerships and other community policing activities either influence this directly or how they may change the relationship between composition of the force and these types of outcomes,” said Nicholson-Crotty, who continued the study doesn’t argue against increasing representation on police forces and acknowledged that good things can come from stronger inclusion.
SOURCE: Indiana University School of Public and Environmental Affairs, The Policy Studies Journal