Adrienne St. Clair and Jasmine Spearing-Bowen

Thursday, Dec. 7, 2017

Arizona law enforcement doesn’t reflect state’s diversity

WINSLOW – Despite national calls for more diverse law enforcement agencies, very few, if any, Arizona police departments reflect the demographics of the communities they serve – though diversity is not always their top priority.

Experts in Arizona and across the country say that while agencies should strive to mirror their jurisdictions, it is more important to focus on building a police force of well-trained, capable officers – regardless of race, ethnicity or gender – who can build strong relationships with their communities.

“In and of itself, just having more Hispanic officers or more female officers or more black officers won’t increase a positive relationship with those communities,” said Kevin Robinson, retired assistant chief of Phoenix Police Department’s patrol division. “You still have to go out and develop that relationship.”

But recent high-profile police shootings like that of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager shot by a white officer in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014, have raised concerns about how officers treat communities of color across the U.S. and whether police departments should strive harder to increase diversity.

At the end of 2014, President Barack Obama established a Task Force on 21st Century Policing to address the increasing tensions after the shootings in Ferguson and elsewhere across the nation. Obama appointed former East Palo Alto, California, Police Chief Ronald Davis as executive director.

“Ferguson did not change the narrative, it revealed it,” Davis said. “It simply highlighted that which we’ve already known for many years, about the strained relationship between police and communities of color.”