Monday, April 6, 2015

Drop the Dynamite, Pick Up a Hammer

     Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity had their annual regional conference in Greensboro last month.  The theme this year was titled "Strengthening Relations between Police and Minority Communities".  Many speakers participated including representatives from the Greensboro Police Department, community activists and college students.  On March 20 the Reverend Cardes Brown of Greensboro spoke again of his position that the Greensboro Police Department is not inclusive of African Americans and that the department's demographics should mirror those of the city.  This is not a new position and is brought up on a consistent basis from groups such as Reverend Brown's Pulpit Forum.  This position expresses an ideal philosophy which never seems to be accompanied by a practical plan to accomplish this objective; simply more opportunity to criticize.  It is a position that I have heard from community activists from the beginning of my career until now and the issue seems to be raised annually if not more by city activists such as Reverend Brown .
     For just as long the Greensboro Police Department has attempted to accomplish just that; employ officers who's racial and ethnic backgrounds are as diverse as the community we serve.  While this may be a noble undertaking the question is can it actually be accomplished?  Most of us that have served or are serving in law enforcement know the obstacles that agencies face in accomplishing a proper balance but the general public seems to rely on activists' statements that the departments in general and Greensboro in particular are not making enough effort to hire or are somehow purposely excluding minorities.  Let us examine just how easy this philosophy has been to implement.
     Not all Greensboro Police Officers are originally from Guilford County and have migrated to the area after being hired.  The department recruits prospective officers from colleges and universities throughout the state and in surrounding states as well.  In other words, the population of Greensboro which is approximately 279,000 people, is not a large enough pool to find enough qualified candidates to staff the department and fill Police Academy seats.  This encompasses ALL genders, races and ethnicities.  The department has to cast a wider net.
     According to the United States Census in 2010, African American residents in Greensboro account for 40.6 percent of the total population.  However, that population decreases to just over 21 percent statewide and 13.2 percent nationally.  There are 14,633 law enforcement agencies in this country (fbi.gov) with 513 in North Carolina.  Recruiting qualified minorities is a competitive endeavor.  Every agency is recruiting from the same limited demographic in an effort to accomplish a representative balance reflective of the city, town or county they serve. 
     Then there is the realization that law enforcement agencies are competing against corporations and other bureaucracies from the same group of minority candidates.  If a candidate has a choice of jobs or careers where the pay and benefits are virtually equal which job will they accept; work nights, holidays and weekends wearing a bullet proof vest or work for a corporation with an office, company car and a clear career path to management?  Unless the candidate actually wants to be in law enforcement he usually doesn't chose the path that could put him in harm's way.  Add to the mix the potential to be ostracized by community leaders from his own ethnic background and the job appeals even less.  Progress is being made nationwide as the Bureau of Justice Statistics (bjs.gov) cites one in four law enforcement officers being "of an ethnic or racial minority" as of 2007.
     Given these statistics is it possible to achieve a police department in Greensboro that is 40.6 percent African American?  All of the statistics quoted above would suggest reaching that percentage would be a daunting task.  Statistics aside, the constant negative bashing of police departments by minority community leaders certainly does not aid in this mission.  Law enforcement has been under constant attack in Greensboro from those who claim to have their community's best interest at heart and demand progress in this area.  By constantly attacking and berating law enforcement these "well meaning" spokesmen discourage their constituents to pursue a career in police work causing even more difficulty when recruiting in minority communities.  Activists such as Reverend Brown command the respect of congregations and organizations who turn to them for guidance.  When these ministers and activists continue to demean their police department it causes mistrust to fester even deeper within their communities making the best efforts to recruit minority candidates almost futile.
     I served with many distinguished African American police officers during my career.  They suffer through the same criticism officers in general are subjected to.  They also deal with members of their own ethnic communities criticizing and demeaning them for serving as law enforcement officers as if they are somehow "selling out" their people.  This view is enhanced when clergy members continue to speak negatively with absolutely no positive input leading their congregations down the path of mistrust and resentment.  How does a department recruit minority candidates when the statistics are already stacked against them and the leaders of the communities they are trying to recruit from continue their crusade of bashing without offering solution? 
     Greensboro Chief of Police Wayne Scott said it best; "bridges are built from both sides" .  If Reverend Brown and the Pulpit Forum as well as other city activists are serious about accomplishing their demands or acting on their rhetoric, it's time they put away their dynamite and pick up a hammer.                            

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