A Look In The Mirror: A Case Study About Police Race Versus Cultural Awareness For Effective Staffing
Author: Chief James Lamkin, Schaumburg (IL) Police Department, NA Session #207
Applied Research Project in Leadership  |  Master of Arts in Organizational Leadership
Judson University  |  January 27, 2016




 

Editor’s Note: In our continuing efforts to recognize the professional and academic accomplishments of our FBINAA graduates and members, the following is an excerpt from Chief James Lamkin’s thesis on the study of police race and cultural awareness in the hiring and retention practices in diverse communities.  Chief Lamkin’s entire thesis can be found here.

Abstract

This research investigated strategies related to sworn police department staffing in diverse communities.  The significance of the research was to assess whether police officer racial and ethnic makeup needs to mirror the population in the community served or if cultural awareness training can serve as an alternative in lieu thereof, for effective delivery of services.  The research addressed three principle questions that related to staffing and service delivery. This was a qualitative, single case study.  In addition to a literature review of what other organizations have learned, the research included an interview process with three groups of three participants using fifteen semi-structured questions.   Each participant was also asked to rate their perspective of significance for each interview question to determine their perspective on how important the question related to the research project. The interview participants included police administrators, officers, a human resource manager, an elected official and residents of three municipalities.  The interview results were compared to a literature review to reach a conclusion. The research concluded that mirroring police officer staffing to community population was a desirable goal that was not possible, but cultural awareness training was the realistic alternative. The conclusion provided a recommendation for those in police leadership positions to recruit for diverse staffing, and mandate cultural awareness training on a regular basis. The benefit of conducting this research provided guidance in staffing law enforcement workforces to effectively meet the challenges of the present with a foundation for the demands of the future.

 

Introduction

The most visible component of government in many communities is the presence of the police department.  That presence may be in the form of a marked patrol car, an officer in uniform, and a police station.  In many communities, police headquarters are the only part of government that is staffed and open for business around the clock, seven days a week.  People come to the police for many reasons that include making arrests.  When situations occur, the police are always available and are called upon for assistance.  In most cases, the police have resources available themselves or by referral to other law enforcement and government agencies.  Regardless of race or ethnicity, people are accustomed to a response when help is needed.  Police work inherently does not allow for decisions on who the customer base is or where it originates.  The mission statement used by many law enforcement agencies “we serve and protect” is a reality to the foundation for services provided.

The most recent data collected by the United States, Office of Justice Programs; Bureau of Justice Statistics indicates there are 18,000 state and local law enforcement agencies.  Of the 18,000 more than two thirds are considered local law enforcement agencies.  They define local law enforcement, as “an agency other than a sheriff’s office that is operated by a unit of local government” (United States Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2008, p. 1).  The data indicates that 12,501 local police departments have at least one full time police officer.  There are 461,000 police officers which account for 60% of officers coming from local law enforcement agencies.   In addition, one in every eight officers was female, and one in every four officers was a member of a racial or ethnic minority.  At the time the information was collected, 16% were Hispanic or Latino.

There are many different races and ethnic backgrounds represented within the United States.   While each community may have a different make-up of their population, the police may not have the same makeup.  Regardless, the police serve all of the residents and the question arises whether the local police have the ability to respond appropriately and legally with everyone they encounter, even if they come from different race or ethnicity.

There are approximately 900,000 law enforcement officers in the United States.  Twelve percent of them are female.  On an average there are one hundred fifty officers who die in the line of duty each year ("Key Data about the Profession," 2014, p. 1).  In an effort to safeguard officers from getting hurt or killed in the line of duty, ongoing training must remain a priority in communities.

In August of 2014, an incident occurred in Ferguson, Missouri that has raised the issue that led to this research.  The incident involved a white police officer investigating a crime that had just occurred. The African-American suspect was found walking down a street and was stopped by the officer who was conducting a preliminary investigation.  There was an exchange between the officer and suspect, which led to the suspect walking away.  As the officer re- approached the suspect, during this exchange the officer ended up fatally shooting the suspect.  The incident was clearly observed by a number or people. There were other observers who had less specific details. The officer was immediately placed on an administrative assignment, while appropriate non-Ferguson law enforcement personnel investigated the incident. The community was enraged, with riots and looting occurring for days. The investigation continued for months.  During this time the community became enraged due to allegations the officer over reacted because of racial tension.  It was further alleged that the make-up of the Ferguson Police Department was not a proper representation of the community.

According to information from the City of Ferguson, the population as of 2010 is as follows:

  • Total population 21,203
  • White percentage of population 29.3%
  • Black or African American 67.4%
  • American Indian 1%
  • Asian 1%
  • Other 1.3%

The implication that followed indicated that the police department was less than understanding of different demographics. Furthermore, the police department staffing should mirror the community population which has 53 officers and only three are African-American.  The United States Department of Justice engaged a separate civil rights investigation into the officer’s actions as well as the operations of the Ferguson Police Department. In November of 2014, after hearing weeks of testimony, a St. Louis County grand jury found no grounds that Officer Darren Wilson committed a criminal act for the shooting of Michael Brown.  The Ferguson community was again enraged over this decision. This has opened the door for discussion in cities across the United States about the actions of police officers in relation to diverse communities.  On December 18, 2014, President Barack Obama signed an executive order establishing the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing.  With law enforcement representatives from local, state and federal levels, the task force was established.  The intent was to identify best practices, making recommendations to the President on how policing methods can effectively reduce crime while building trust with the public.  In addition, the task force was to explore relationships between law enforcement and the communities they serve.

Several months after the grand jury decision, the Department of Justice report also found no civil rights violation by Officer Darren Wilson, who had since resigned from the Ferguson Police Department.  Attorney General Eric Holder had continued to address this issue and a need for law enforcement reforms in policing diverse populations.  In March of 2015, the Ferguson City Manager and Police Chief both resigned from their positions.

The author of this explanatory research is an experienced law enforcement administrator.  The subject of police staffing is something every police administrator reviews frequently.  Many times, the focus relates to budget and numbers of sworn staff in relation to the population served, as well as the type and volume of calls handled annually.  This research was intended to look beyond the staffing levels.  It explored the questions related to the demographics of how police departments are staffed.  Many cities have multiple cultures, with people of different race or ethnicity.  The ethnic backgrounds can create circumstances where the police need greater cultural understanding to provide effective services.  That understanding may be successful by having a police department mirror the population served, based on demographics.  Cultural awareness training has become a resource to assist in the delivery of police services in diverse communities.  Officer gender, attitude and manner of handling situations can vary.  This research explored the ability to staff sworn positions comparable to the community population, as well as the benefits of training as the alternative.

Law enforcement requires a unique blend of traits and characteristics.  This includes empathy, effective communication, compassion, intelligence, and the ability to relate to people at their level.  These characteristics are used by effective officers in addressing criminal matters, service related calls, crime prevention strategies and community policing initiatives.  These are traits anyone can bring to their organization regardless of gender, ethnicity, race, or other background.  The profession of law enforcement respects and encourages independence and proactive decision making.  Being a member of a minority group should not limit one’s ability to become a law enforcement officer.  Law enforcement is a field where diversity matters, is encouraged and sought after.

The Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA), is an agency that strives for excellence in law enforcement agencies (Commission of Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies, n.d.).  In the CALEA standards, there is a chapter on recruitment.  The chapter mandates that the law enforcement agency will be an equal opportunity employer.  CALEA defines equal opportunity as the removal of any barriers that prevent people from being treated fairly.  The next part of this standard requires that the agency sworn force is representative of the available workforce for the area served.  In the event that any part of the population is not represented, the agency must demonstrate an effort being made to recruit from various diverse populations.  This helps to establish norms within each agency and assist in recruitment efforts.  The City of Ferguson is not on record with CALEA as being nationally accredited.   The standard acknowledges that many states use civil service efforts in filling sworn staff.  Those efforts may not always be a direct reflection on the agency’s efforts.  Accredited agencies are required to validate they follow the standards with proofs annually.

In modern day policing, it is important to note why law enforcement cares about diversity and cultural awareness.  People are individuals and each person have their own perspective.  The police can investigate an incident with several witnesses and each may see what happened differently.  In the Ferguson grand jury testimony, that became evident. The same thought applies to how people see the police.  People form their individual opinions about the police based on personal interactions.  Police that have embraced community policing methods find that people who have regular positive interactions with the police are more supportive of police activities.  It is also important for the police to gain understanding of the populations they serve.  Different cultures celebrate family and holiday events differently as an example.  There are also some cultures that fear the police, depending on their country of origin.  The head of a law enforcement organization, usually the Chief of Police, is where leadership needs to be exhibited.  As the leader, the Chief sets the standard for the agency on how the public is treated and must clarify the role of the police in the community being served.  They must possess character.  Cloud (2006) explains that aspects of character include the ability to connect with others, must be oriented toward the truth, get results and finish what is started, embrace the negative problems, be oriented toward growth, and have the ability to be transcendent by looking at the big picture.  The effective Chief of Police respects the community served and expects respect and compassion for those serving in the organization.

Police chiefs across the United States have worked to provide stronger detailed explanations about police actions.  Many times, perception and reality are not the same.  Arrests are made because laws are broken and the police are expected to respond, assess the situation and uphold the laws.  Police officers are also referred to in some states as peace officers.  At times, they are the keepers of peace in situations that do not always end in arrests.  Diversity in the ranks or cultural awareness training will not erase the need for good training and common sense in police work.  Diversity does have the ability to enhance interactions with the police by reducing the perception of racial, ethnic or cultural barriers.

The intent of this research is to compare and contrast police department staffing with the potential to mirror the racial diversity of a community versus training officers to be culturally aware of their community for effective police service delivery.  Effective service delivery is the basis for asking the question. 

The Ferguson, Missouri incident has provided cause to research further into these questions.  This incident has served to identify whether reforms in policing are necessary across the United States, going to the highest elected office in the country.  This was the basis for conducting this research project.  The research project is intended to gain insight into the issues related to staffing and recruitment.  In the process of conducting this project, insight from a cross section of police and non-police people may give insight into community concerns as well as recruitment strengths and weaknesses.  The outcome is intended to reach a recommendation based in part on the knowledge gained from the work of others through literature review and interviews. While this is a small study, it may lead to findings or a recommendation for a larger study of a similar nature.

 

Summary of Literature Review

There is significant research done by others that supports either diversity or cultural sensitivity training.   It is apparent that people enter the law enforcement profession for many reasons.  Those reasons may have a direct benefit to an officer’s success in working with different cultures or races.  Successful recruiting needs to reach people in their communities, especially for the African-American population.  Even once recruited and trained, communities need to take measures to keep minority recruits in their organizations by monitoring their acceptance into the organization’s culture.  Proactive programming in law enforcement, such as community policing, demonstrated value in diversity and training.  This philosophy helped demonstrate that the police share neighborhood issues, with officer race or ethnicity not being an issue.  In some cases, African-American officers were viewed as being more credible in diverse neighborhoods.  This created greater credibility for the entire organization.   The collection and review of data related to profiling assists law enforcement administrators ensure that officers are properly engaging citizens.  It is important to recognize that this issue involves Latino, Arab and Muslim populations in addition to African-Americans.   There have been various efforts to understand the value of training to eliminate bias.  This has been accomplished successfully in many cases. Embracing diversity is more than a public appearance; it is a mission to be shared by everyone in the organization.  Attitudes and perceptions from the public toward the police and the police toward the public are both important.  The specific research related to this project adds insight into which has a stronger value.  In review of information reported by others, there are circumstances that support mirroring the population, but it does not eliminate the value of training.  In some cases, training, properly done and documented has assisted where a diverse sworn workforce was not in place.  It is apparent that recruitment, relationships, responses and strategies are all components for successful service delivery.  Each has benefits from a diverse sworn workforce as well as one that is trained with an understanding of a multi-cultural society.

 

Methodology

This is a qualitative, single case study designed with the purpose to solicit responses from those working in a community with police leadership and staffing responsibilities, police service delivery and from elected officials and residents.  This research is explanatory.  This is a local knowledge case study due to a requirement as part of a Master of Arts Program, and because the subject matter is of inherent interest to the researcher (Thomas, 2011).  The researcher is a career police officer, now serving in a suburb of Chicago, Illinois as a chief of police.  The events in Ferguson, Missouri in August of 2014 have raised questions about diversity in police staffing, cultural awareness and the ability to provide effective services.   The research questions being explored are intended to provide insight into the issue and a basis for any conclusions.  These are the principal research questions being addressed:

  • Does the research support mirroring the racially diversified population or is cultural awareness training viewed as the stronger solution by the police leadership, police officers, community leadership and members for successful police service delivery in a community?
  • What is more likely of mirroring in a community: to successfully recruit, hire and train police officer personnel meeting a goal of racial diversity or recruit, hire and train police officer personnel who are culturally aware and sensitive?
  • What are the implications for a safe community life and perceptions of a supportive police department under each of these proposed models of staffing a

police department?

Case Selection: Three different communities were involved in the study, none of which was the suburb where the researcher is serving as chief of police. The responses to the interview questions were to obtain insight from the participants from experiences and knowledge. This input was related to police services and citizen interaction with police activities.  Due to the nature of the information sought, soliciting information from different roles, responsibilities and positions in the community was intended to broaden the perspectives.  Two of the communities were racially diverse, and the third with less diversity.  This was intended to determine if views were significantly similar or opposing.

Case Participants: There were three different groups of three people that are being interviewed as part of the research. The groups were identified in group A, B, or C and numbered 1, 2, or 3. One group consisted of two municipal police chiefs and a municipal human resources manager.  In this group one police chief was a male Caucasian, one police chief was a male African-American and the human resource person was a Caucasian female.  The second group was three community members, of which one was an elected Mayor and the other two were citizens.  The Mayor was a Caucasian male, one citizen was a Caucasian male and the third was a Latino female.  The third group was three sworn police officers, one of which was a supervisor.  The supervisor was an African-American male, the second was a Caucasian male and the third was a Caucasian female.  The communities were all local government, municipal organizations.

Instruments and Procedures: The triangulation for the research was obtained by interviewing three groups of three individuals in each category.  Each person was interviewed using fifteen semi-structured questions as outlined in Appendix A.  The interviews were conducted face-to-face with the researcher in an office type setting where there was minimal potential of risk related to identification, injury or accident. The interviews were in complete confidence with the researcher.   None of the participants were under the employment of the researcher.  The participants were under no obligation and were assisting of their own choice.   Those being interviewed were identified through control numbers and only known by the researcher.   The control numbers were assigned by the researcher in categories A, B or C, followed by a 1, 2 or 3.  The data collected was retained by the researcher until the research had been finalized.

Included as part of the interviews was an added component to identify how important the participant may feel each question was related to the research topic. This part of the research was quantitative.  There was a rating of 1-5 after each question, with one being the least important and five being the most important.  The participant was asked the perspective of importance for that question.  This was included due to the varied background of each person interviewed to elicit the relevance of their view on the questions related to the research topic.  This part of the process was included to demonstrate emphasis or lack thereof to each question from each participant. 

The information from interviews was fully documented for content analysis.  Since there were nine people being interviewed, with fifteen questions asked of each participant, provided a total of 135 responses to compile.  Each of the responses to each question was documented in detail.  The similarities in answers and differences were noted and coded.  Common categories were identified and noted as major or minor.  The categories were reviewed again after all information was compiled to determine if any can be combined or the category renamed.   Once this was compiled, a review of literature was made, comparing the interview information with the literature review looking for direct comparisons.  Information from literature that was significantly similar even with different outcomes was summarized.  The information learned between literature review and research participant interviews was compared.

Both common and uncommon points were identified.  Any comparative statistical data was compared for patterns in the responses.  The quantitative data was entered into a database in three different ways.  The first way was for the entire pool of participants.  The second was for the sworn participants and non-sworn in separate pools.  The third was by communities of each participant.  The entire pool provided a baseline of overall responses.  The second pool compared the responses between sworn and non-sworn to note whether there was any significance to how each group rated the importance of the questions.  The third made a comparison by community, with more relevance on whether participants in diverse communities were different from the non-diverse community in how they viewed the questions.

 

Findings

The purpose of this qualitative study was to determine whether a police department could mirror the population served by race or whether cultural awareness training could be used as an alternative.   The data collected from the participants that were interviewed provided perspectives from those serving in police departments as well as the citizens.  They agreed that the media of today is directing the attention to the police activities in the communities served.  It was evident to them that the media at times places a greater focus on police actions than the crimes being reported.  The benefits of diversity and cultural awareness training are encouraged and seen as important to provide effective services.  The legislature has passed laws that are intended to keep police actions from targeting any specific members of a community.  The reporting helps to monitor police response.    There have been varied recruitment options, with each of them providing similar suggestions about reaching potential candidates in their communities.  The police are seen as needing to promote more positive activities to generate interest in this career.  The data supports positive, transparent interactions with community groups to enhance relationships.  The recruitment process needed to be professional and focus on hiring qualified candidates and move away from traditional commissions who generate eligibility rosters.  It was also recognized that cultural barriers exist.  Some cultures may be approached differently to break barriers, where others are simply not interested.  Efforts to recruit for diversity should be a goal regardless of any barriers.  The police and citizens interviewed agree that positive progress in hiring and building relationships has occurred in recent years.  Technology will continue to play a role, and communities will embrace the use of it as they become more educated on the benefits.  Similarly, they indicated the police officers will see the benefits too.

The interviews found the citizens gave greater emphasis to the issue of racial diversity than the sworn officers.  This would indicate that this focus needed be maintained to keep recruitment and training as a core goal for effective service delivery.  The most significant agreement by all was that this issue was important, and the police and communities served need to continue to focus on the benefit of diverse staffing and cultural awareness training.  These findings were significant to review and compare to the discussion that follows.

 

Conclusion

The subject of this research project was chosen because of events that occurred involving the police and citizens in racially diverse community that lead to the death of an African- American youth.  The interaction between this young man and a male Caucasian police officer led to the officer shooting the unarmed youth.  The exchange of information about what happened affected the community and law enforcement in general across the United States.  This brought awareness to police and community relationships.  It also served to investigate the staffing in police officer ranks and whether the police department members should mirror the population that is being served.  The research explored the option where police and population could not be mirrored to meet better understanding through cultural awareness training.  The research questions were helpful in obtaining information about the research subject matter.

The triangulation for this research involved three sets of three individuals being interviewed.  These groups included police and human resource administrators, community members with one being elected, and sworn police personnel.  They were from three different communities, two of which had a diverse population.  The semi-structured interviews included fifteen questions, which were also rated by each interviewee for their perspective of the importance of the question.

This is a small study compared to the overall subject matter.  There are police departments across the United States that serve local, county and state government.  Each community has their own population make-up which may be very diverse or not at all.  The foundation for police work is similar regardless of the community; however, the effectiveness has the potential to vary due to cultural or ethnic differences.  This study looked into the ability to recruit and hire a diverse sworn workforce versus providing cultural awareness as the alternative.  The communities represented in the study represent a cross section of the types of communities that can be faced with similar situations.  The perspectives learned were helpful to provide limited insight for other studies to consider.

The interview questions and participants worked well for this research.  There was a good balance of input looking at the questions from different perspectives.  The combination of literature and interviews offered some conclusions to the extent of this research.  It is clear that the research done by others as well as this study demonstrated the need for diversity in the ranks of police departments.  The ability to accomplish this is a challenge.  It is also evident that in the absence of hiring for diversity there was value in training.  The efforts to recruit and hire diverse candidates for police officers was a goal that should be maintained, but not at the expense of reducing qualifications.  The commitment to provide cultural awareness training aided in the delivery of services where the diverse staffing was lacking. This study was limited since it is relatively small compared the police responsibility in the United States; however, it could serve as a catalyst to have this subject studied more extensively. The purpose of the study was to see if a police department could mirror the populations served.  The research indicates it is desired but not possible.  Cultural awareness training was the alternative to ensure that police services meet the needs of the entire community.

About The Author:

James Lamkin
Chief James Lamkin is the Chief of Police for the Village of Schaumburg, Illinois.  Prior to taking the leadership role at the Schaumburg Police Department, Chief Lamkin was the Chief of Police for the St. Charles (IL) Police Department and the Deputy Chief of the Elgin (IL) Police Department.  Chief Lamkin has more than 40 years in law enforcement.  He is a graduate of Columbia College of Missouri, where he earned a Bachelor of Arts in Criminal Justice Administration, and a graduate of Judson University, where he earned a Master of Arts in Organization Leadership. Chief Lamkin is also a graduate of the 207th Session of the FBI National Academy in Quantico, Virginia.

 

 

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