San Diego’s police force mirrors some parts of the community better than others.
Demographic data released by the San Diego Police Department earlier this year showed the agency had about 8 percent fewer Asian American officers and 9 percent fewer Hispanic officers than the percentages reflected in the 2010 U.S. Census for San Diego. The percentage of black officers working for the department, however, nearly matched the percentage of black residents in the community.
The numbers are newly relevant in the wake of the death of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teen shot and killed by a white Ferguson, Mo., police officer. Since the shooting, huge demographic disparities between the small city’s police force and the community have been revealed.
The differences are far less stark in San Diego, as these charts show.
These numbers may have shifted a bit since the start of 2014. The police department has shed retiring officers and added new ones who’ve graduated from the police academy.
The police department’s approach with minority residents has gotten significant attention since then. A Voice of San Diego investigation revealed the department failed to follow its own rules for collecting racial data about traffic stops and shed light on police leaders’ contention that racial profiling wasn’t a concern in the city. Those revelations helped spur the department to outfit officers with body cameras and try to curb practices that have offended some community members, including a tendency to immediately ask whether a person is on probation or parole during traffic stops. Police have also started collecting traffic stop data again. Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman has hosted community forums to hear residents’ feedback too.
But it’s too early to gauge the long-term impact of these efforts.
At the same time, the department has gotten more cash to recruit officers.
The demographic makeup of the police force hasn’t shifted significantly in recent years but Zimmerman has said she expects that to change as the department seeks new officers.
“With this continued outreach, I would expect that we would be able to attract people to work at the San Diego Police Department from all communities,” she said in February. “I think all of the demographics are going to change.”
At the time, Zimmerman said recent police academy classes had been more diverse.
Changing up the department’s demographic breakdown won’t be easy, though.
Here’s how Penny Harrington, a former a Portland, Ore., police chief who spent years advising police agencies on diversity, summed up the challenge:
“It takes work to recruit minorities and women because minorities and women are suspicious about how they’re going to be treated when they join the police department,” she said.
Harrington added that some minorities may recall negative encounters with police officers, or be unfamiliar with any officers that look like them. They may also worry that their differences will be taken as a sign that they’re less capable or not part of the team.
The latter concern has been voiced here.
Earlier this year, San Diego Black Police Officers Association President Benjamin Kelso said fellow officers questioned his loyalty to the force after he attended local Trayvon Martin marches.