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7 tips for building a diverse police workforce

Police departments across the country are being pressed to hire police officers that are reflective of the communities they serve

Article updated on November 6, 2017.

The majority of citizens don’t care about the race of the officer who shows up when they call as long as they are treated with respect. However, departments across the country are being pressed to hire workforces that are reflective of the communities they serve.

As law enforcement agencies around the country scramble to diversify their workforces, many of them are struggling with how to go about doing so. Having a diverse workforce is important as it may help establish trust between law enforcement and the communities we serve.

Diversifying law enforcement agencies is not without controversy because some consider changing recruiting strategies and hiring practices as lowering job standards. Our profession is generally slow to change and, from my experience, most in law enforcement say they like change but don’t. This is just one of many facets that make the topic of diversifying our profession tricky.

Fortunately, I have had the opportunity to travel around our great country in recent months and I have found that many people in law enforcement want to increase diversity within their respective organizations – they just need some guidance.

Here are some tips for recruiting a diverse police workforce. This is a complex and difficult topic, and the below list is certainly not exhaustive or complete, but these thoughts can help you and your agency begin to move toward the objective of a more diverse workforce. Add your own ideas in the comments section below.

1. Have committed police leadership

The chief law enforcement officer must be committed to diversifying their department. There is nothing more important to the successful diversification of a department then having leadership that is committed to, and has a vision for diversifying their organization.

2. Use targeted marketing

Marketing toward communities of color should feature the community service aspects of the job as opposed to tactical aspects. Recruiting videos with fast music and lots of lights and SWAT action may not be the best type of recruiting video for targeting diverse candidates.

I would suggest looking at the police recruiting video for the New Orleans Police Department as an example. NOPD is one of the most racially balanced police departments in the country and they have done a good job of attracting diverse candidates to their organization.

I have also found that becoming a police officer for many minority officers was their ticket out of poverty. Highlighting the financial benefits of the job and the positives your community has to offer them may help attract diverse candidates to your organization.

3. Consider nationwide recruiting

Some agencies simply may not have qualified candidates within their area, so conducting nationwide recruiting could help bring diverse candidates to your agency.

For instance, if your agency is located in the northeastern portion of the country, you could consider recruiting in states like Michigan, Illinois, Missouri or other states that have somewhat similar climates but may not pay as well. Agencies that recruit nationwide effectively are doing a good job of hiring workforces that closely mirror the communities that they serve.

4. Recruit at college athletic departments

Small colleges in rural areas often do a great job of recruiting diverse athletes to their campuses and many of these athletes major in social sciences. Their physical condition and ability to work in a team setting provide them with some inherently desirable law enforcement characteristics.

5. Nurture a positive reputation

The Oxford Handbook of Recruitment written by Daniel M. Cable, states that an “organization’s ability to recruit minority applicants is based on its diversity reputation or image.” It goes on to state that if an organization wants to target minority applicants it should have a positive diversity image.

If your organization has a negative reputation among officers of color or minority community members you may have a difficult time attracting diverse candidates. Organizations that are successful at attracting diverse candidates normally have a reputation among officers of color as being welcoming and accepting of all officers regardless of race.

6. Develop your own young police recruits

Start engaging with youth in middle school. Your agency may want to consider having an police explorer program that focuses of developing diverse candidates for your agency, which could allow your agency to develop a career track for diverse candidates that progresses them from explorer to police officer over a period of years.

Growing your own diverse workforce may take some time but the workforce you hire and develop today will be the workforce you have tomorrow. It is also a great way to build positive neighbor relations.

7. Partner with minority police officer associations

Organizations such as the National Latino Peace Officers Association, National Black Police Association, National Asian Peace Officers’ Association and the local chapters of the International Association of Women Police do an excellent job of mentoring diverse candidates.

Each of these associations has had many of their student members go on to become police officers. Having a partnership with organizations such as these can also help build relationships and assist your departments recruiting efforts.

Police department demographics will continue to be a topic of national discussion, so it is in our best interests to hire workforces that are reflective of the communities we serve. It won’t solve all the perceived problems surrounding our profession, but it may lessen them in some instances.

Bloomington Police Department Chief Booker Hodges has worked as a school resource officer, patrol deputy, narcotics detective, SWAT operator, patrol overnight watch commander, inspector, undersheriff, acting chief deputy, an assistant public safety commissioner and now chief of police.

Prior to joining the Bloomington Police Department in April of 2022, he served with the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, the Lake Police Department and the Ramsey and Dakota County Sheriff’s Office. He has led agencies ranging from 40 to 1,500 staff members.