- Title: U.S. police forces struggle to recruit, fail to promote Black officers
- Date: 2nd July 2020
- Summary: WASHINGTON, D.C., UNITED STATES (FILE - JUNE 3, 2020) (REUTERS) WIDE SHOT OF PROTESTS ON CAPITOL HILL TWO PEOPLE STANDING NEXT TO EACH OTHER HOLDING SIGNS SAYING "NO JUSTICE NO PEACE" CHANTING "DON'T SHOOT" SHOT OF LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICERS AS CROWD CAN BE HEARD CHANTING "WHO DO YOU SERVE"
- Embargoed: 16th July 2020 18:07
- Keywords: Black police George Floyd protests
- Location: VARIOUS IN UNITED STATES
- City: VARIOUS IN UNITED STATES
- Country: USA
- Topics: Government/Politics
- Reuters ID: LVA004CL59HZB
- Aspect Ratio: 16:9
- Story Text: Thomas Boone has spent 22 years as a police officer in Prince George's County, Maryland, a predominantly Black suburb of Washington, proudly wearing his uniform and driving his patrol car to coach kids' football and basketball teams.
Some of those athletes are now 18 to 20 years old, including his own son. They might have pursued careers in law enforcement, Boone believes - but the death of George Floyd has triggered a new tsunami of anger and outrage directed cops in their own communities, including the Black ones.
"When we go to the grocery store in town, we have to get stopped to be asked, 'Why y'all do this to us?'", said Boone.
Floyd's death under the knee of white policeman a month ago has triggered fresh scrutiny of brutal police treatment of African-Americans. Black men are more than twice as likely to die in U.S. police custody than white ones, a 2018 study shows.
"I remember talking to my father, who grew up in Durham, North Carolina, and he said to me very clearly, 'why would you want to be the police?' These were the same people who had fire hoses and had canine dogs, and they use these dogs and these hoses against us. So that's an uphill battle that every municipality is going to deal with as far as recruiting minorities. When you add the the George Floyd situation on top of that, it makes it that much more difficult," said Sergeant Anthony Russell, a former recruitment supervisor who heads a Black officers' advocacy group in Baltimore County, Maryland.
Policing experts have long believed one way to address the crisis is to attract more Black Americans to law enforcement, and promote them to the top ranks.
The race gap in U.S. policing remains pronounced in some big cities and districts, and among top ranks, despite years-long attempts to rectify it.
Department of Justice (DOJ) data shows that 90% of the police chiefs in local departments and 81% of supervisors above sergeant were white in 2016 - compared to 4% and 9% African-American, respectively.
Reuters spoke to more than a dozen former and current law enforcement officers, as well as criminal justice experts and families of police officers. Most warn that Black representation in U.S. police forces is likely to shrink even further.
"Recruiting will slow down initially, because of just the negative connotation or just the negativity of being a police officer right now," said Boone.
Officers told Reuters police departments often recruited law enforcement personnel who lived in a different state and had few ties to the local community.
Across the country, Black recruits face more problems during background checks, and then see barriers to promotion and higher discipline rates once hired, according to Sonia Pruitt, head of the National Black Police Association and other police experts.
"You're trying to rebuild a department on what you're looking for. But if you turn down what we are looking for, then it's harder to recruit. It's harder to bring them in, because we're turning down the very people that we need, that we want here," said Boone who joined with 11 other minority officers in a 2018 lawsuit alleging systemic racism in his force.
It's a discouraging environment for a job that can pay less than $35,000 a year to start, experts say.
Russell, a 32-year veteran of the Baltimore County police, said police department said the problem includes "nepotism" in hiring that has continued ripple effects in keeping the force largely white.
"I do think at some point there was an intentional act to make sure that certain people didn't get hired," said Russell.
U.S. law enforcement agencies last stepped up efforts to recruit Black officers after Michael Brown, an unarmed Black man, was fatally shot by white police officers in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014. Then, as now, racial profiling and white-dominated policing became nationwide issues, with local governments and activists vowing for change.
"He (George Floyd) was a sacrificial lamb to make change... I think people are being tired of being told political punchlines," said former officer Michael Brown.
Brown says disparate treatment cost him his job after nearly 15 years on the Prince George's police force and he was blackballed for jobs elsewhere. He now runs a company that trains police and security guards in Maryland. He said he teaches his students that policing is a "noble profession" that can allow officers to help their communities. But change in the police force, he says, has to come from the top leadership.
Experts are calling for increased resources to increase minority recruitment and diversify the police force. Russell says more funds need to be allocated towards hiring larger numbers of trained recruiters with a working knowledge of the police department who can hire candidates best suited for the job.
"You have to recruit people for real. The same way IBM recruits, the same way Amazon recruits. If we want to be looked at that way, if we really want to change the community, how much money are we putting in recruitment? Because if it's twenty six thousand dollars, that's not enough. That's not enough."
(Production: Gershon Peaks, Pavithra George)
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