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St. Louis Area Police Forces Are Less Diverse Than Communities They Serve, Statistics Show

Protesters are greeted by a wall of police officers after a march to the Ferguson Police department on August 11, 2014.
Bill Greenblatt | UPI

The calls for greater representation of minorities in the region's law enforcement ranks have grown louder in the wake of the death of 18-year-old Michael Brown at the hands of a Ferguson police officer. Protesters want to see more minorities especially in the police departments serving predominantly African-American communities.

Two-thirds of Ferguson’s residents are black, according to 2013 census records. But there are only three African Americans on the city’s 53-member police force. The city council is also predominantly white, as is the mayor.

Tuesday night at a community meeting, Ferguson police chief Thomas Jackson was asked about a lack of diversity on the police. He said he has worked to promote the African American officers on the police force to higher ranks. And while Jackson said diversifying the Ferguson Police Department has been a focus for him, it has fallen short of the mark.

“My success rate has not been as good as I would like it to be,” Jackson said, who added that he would redouble efforts to recruit a more diverse police force.

The Missouri attorney general's office issues annual reports that show the Ferguson police force is almost twice as likely to conduct searches of African Americans during traffic stops. But searches of whites are more likely to result in the discovery of drugs and other contraband. Statewide numbers follow a similar trend.

It's a trend that many residents see in their daily lives.

“Every time we have to go to court people in the room are majority black. You might see two, three whites out of that,” said Kevin Larkin, who attended a protest in Clayton demanding justice for Michael Brown with three of his sons on Tuesday.

Larkin, who lives in the northern part of St. Louis County, said he thinks police departments in the St. Louis area should review their hiring practices and recruit more people of color.

“It doesn’t work for a force to protect everyone,” Larkin said. “I think they should fully evaluate officers before they hire them, because this is what it leads to.”

St. Louis County Police Officers, broken down by race on July 1, 2014. 13.4% of officers with the power to arrest are people of color. 13.2% are female.
Credit St. Louis County Police Department
St. Louis County Police Officers, broken down by race on July 1, 2014. 13.4 percent of officers with the power to arrest are people of color. 13.2 percent are female.

The St. Louis County Police Department, whose jurisdiction does not include Ferguson, has also been criticized for their hiring practices. Of the county's 812 officers, 86 are African American, 14 are Latino and nine identify with another minority group.

That means 13.4 percent of officers with the ability to arrest are people of color.

In 2013, the Missouri State Conference of the NAACP filed a federal civil rights complaint against the St. Louis County Police Department. In addition to accusing the department of racism in its hiring, firing and discipline practices, the filing alleged county officers racially profile people near stores in the southern part of the county.

Sergeant Colby Dolly said he’s aware that his department does not always represent the communities it serves. He said the county makes an effort to recruit new officers at historically black colleges, career fairs and through community leaders.

“A lot of the issues of trust and building rapport within the community come down to the interpersonal skill of the officer and their ability as an individual to build that rapport and that trust with community members,” Dolly said.

That community interaction is important, and something not all officers make an effort to do, said Tricia Jackson of University City as she watched the Clayton protest on Tuesday.

“University City police came up to the school, they introduced themselves to the kids. Some of the kids, when they see them now, they wave,” Jackson said. “I think it needs to be a bigger impact, with more African-American policemen. More people that look like them, maybe things wouldn’t be so bad.”