Ferguson police force is far whiter than the people they serve

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The message from the citizens of Ferguson is clear: We want our police to look like us.


After 18-year-old Michael Brown was killed by a police officer on Saturday afternoon in Ferguson, Missouri, residents in the St. Louis suburb demanded accountability. They have also called for the Ferguson Police Department to hire more black officers.

The 21,000-person city of Ferguson is 65 percent African-American, according to census data. But the police force is just 6 percent.


Are blacks represented in the Ferguson Police Department? | Create Infographics

According to a Ferguson Police Department spokesperson, just three of the department's 53 commissioned officers are black. Neither the police department nor the mayor's office responded to a request for comment regarding efforts to diversify the force.

SLIDESHOW: Powerful Scenes From Ferguson, Missouri

Ferguson isn't alone in its lack of diversity. Police departments around the country often don't resemble the communities they serve. For instance, African-Americans made up 23 percent of residents in greater St. Louis County, of which Ferguson is a part. Black officers make up only 11 percent of the county force.


Gloria J. Browne-Marshall, an associate professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, says that good policing begins with sound policy and practices, which largely comes from leadership. "You can't keep the same practices at the top and expect things to be different at the bottom," she told Fusion.

But the fact that the Ferguson Police Department doesn't employ many African-American officers raises a red flag, Browne-Marshall says. A government body should on some level reflect the town it serves. She says that a lack of diversity often stems from questions about "whether or not people of color should be able to control their own communities."


David Harris, a police expert at the University of Pittsburgh Law School, says that it helps to have a police force that is seen as open to all people, but that racial demographics aren't the most important factor in effective and fair policing.

"You can have a department that perfectly mirrors the people [in the community], but doesn't do a good job and treats its citizens poorly," he said. "Is it better to have some diversity in the ranks? Of course it is. But that isn't, in my mind, the critical determining factor."


Ted Hesson was formerly the immigration editor at Fusion, covering the issue from Washington, D.C. He also writes about drug laws and (occasionally) baseball. On the side: guitars, urban biking, and fiction.

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