Lack Of Diversity In St. Louis Area Police Departments Is Just Flat-Out Embarrassing

ferguson police line


In the wake of Michael Brown’s shooting death at the hands of Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson, a light was shone on the unbelievable lack of racial diversity within the Ferguson police department. It was revealed that while Ferguson’s population is 67% African-American, only three of the town’s 53 full-time police officers are black. The complete disconnect between the racial makeup of the community and the demographics of law enforcement patrolling Ferguson’s streets has been cited as a prime example of the simmering racial tensions in the town that boiled over in the aftermath of Brown’s killing.

However, Ferguson is not an isolated case in the St. Louis area. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch ran a story Sunday detailing the lack of diversity that exists in other St. Louis County police departments. The paper requested the racial makeup of 36 police departments in the county. Of the 31 departments that responded to the Post-Dispatch, 30 of them had a lower percentage of black officers when compared to the proportion of black residents in those communities. While 25% of St. Louis County’s residents are African-American, only 10% of the police officers in the county are black.

Of course, the main excuse given by police departments with nearly all-white forces in communities with a large percentage of black residents is that they just aren’t getting many black applicants. Basically, they are saying they’d love to hire more African-American cops. However, the more qualified minority applicants are generally going for jobs with St. Louis City’s police department, or other, larger metro units. They also said that the relatively lower pay that smaller police departments are forced to pay is possibly a deterrent to qualified black applicants.

Whether or not these are legitimate reasons, the fact remains that St. Louis County is utilizing a predominately white police force to police areas with heavy African-American populations. Research shows that 90% of the county’s black population resides in what is known locally as North County. Meanwhile, as we’ve seen with Ferguson, the police departments in that portion of the county, for the most part, are largely white. These departments don’t require the officers to live within the community, so most of the officers live in other towns and cities. Some commute as much as an hour or more each day to the job.

This huge racial disparity in the police departments in the St. Louis area speaks to the impact white flight has had on the region. As more blacks have moved into certain communities, much of the white population has moved further out into other suburban communities, basically creating ‘whitopias.’ At the same time, cops may stay with the same police department, but move away to one of these other communities. This helps widen the divide between local law enforcement and the neighborhoods they patrol. When the majority of a department’s force does not reside in the town, then the sense of community is broken.

Wesley Bell, a professor of criminal justice and a Ferguson resident, brought this up to the Post-Dispatch.

“Policing is going to be more effective when personal relationships are made and (police) have an investment in the community…If the police department in Ferguson was more reflective of the community, people would be more apt to give them the benefit of the doubt that the officer was using his discretion, and race was not an issue.”

This is a very important point. While quite a bit of focus has been centered on the militarized nature of the police and a rush to the use of deadly force to quell potentially dangerous suspects these past few days, one of the biggest underlying issues that has come to the surface in Ferguson and the St. Louis area is the feeling that local law enforcement is not part of the community. There are no real personal relationships between officers and residents. This builds distrust until it reaches a total tipping point, like what we’ve seen in Ferguson over the past two weeks.

It is my belief that what is going on in St. Louis is merely a microcosm of what is happening in this nation. Hopefully, the lid has been blown off, and solutions will be worked on to make law enforcement more about protecting and serving and less about harassing and intimidating. Trust needs to be regained in communities far and wide. Obviously, law enforcement is a difficult and many times thankless job. However, that job can be a lot easier and fulfilling if the local residents aren’t suspicious and fearful of you.

6 Replies to “Lack Of Diversity In St. Louis Area Police Departments Is Just Flat-Out Embarrassing”

  1. Their claim of a low number of applicants id BS. The main reason is that they want to maintain the status quo and have not avidly gone out for recruitment. If their Human Resource Dept. were looked into I’d bet there would be no evidence of there being any push for minorities. Though the Republicans are after other Unions they dare not touch the F.O.P. so their Union keeps them from any inquiry into the practices of the police. It is al about control for them they do not want others who may upset the way things are currently being done.

  2. I give Jessie Jackson credit in pointing out to the residents of Ferguson that only 12% got out the vote last time. If you don’t go out and vote, you deserve what you get.

    In 2014/2016, EVERYONE has to get out and vote; not 12% but 99% in order for our votes to count (esp w/gerrymandering. The same thing applies to being part of the process instead of being on the sidelines. Republicans depend on our laziness (last time even w/out the greatest turnout, Obama won by over 5 million votes). Let’s prove them wrong. Use the system so it works for the majority of us.

    Black entrapraneurs should do what they did in 2004 and use their money to promote voting registration (mobile voter registration vehicles that would go to poorly served neighborhoods and shut-ins and make sure they are registered to vote).

    These entrapraneurs are now Republicans and that’s why after 2004, few voices are heard in support of getting out of the vote … more worried about their money than commun…

  3. While lack of diversity is a problem, things like the article below pose just as much of a problem.

    How many of these Ferguson cops walk thru the African-American neighborhoods and stop just to talk to the people? When do they stop in at a local grocery and pick up some water or a coke and just talk to the people?

    When the people see and/or read of crap like this article shows, how can the so-called law enforcement expect any cooperation, or respect, from the people they are vilifying?

  4. Maybe the answer is if you are in law enforcement you MUST live in the community. I know it will never happen because of freedumb.

  5. I don’t doubt that there are fewer black applicants. If you think you won’t be considered for a job because it appears the HR departments discriminate, you are less likely to apply, even if that impression is incorrect.

    If you were a black guy growing up in the St. Louis area who seriously wanted to get into law enforcement, would you invest in education and then apply in that area or relocate to another with a better reputation for fairness in hiring and potential for advancement?

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