Academic journal article International Journal of Criminal Justice Sciences

Improving Policing in a Multiracial Society in the United States: A New Approach

Academic journal article International Journal of Criminal Justice Sciences

Improving Policing in a Multiracial Society in the United States: A New Approach

Article excerpt


On August 9, 2014, Michael Brown and Dorian Johnson, two African American teenagers, were walking in the street in Ferguson Missouri, when Officer Darren Wilson had an encounter that significantly impacted society's attitudes towards policing. After hearing of this incident, most in the policing profession took the side of Officer Wilson, while many in the African American community have been outraged with police. This incident has begun an important discussion involving the intersection of race and the practice of policing, as it has highlighted the police need to make dramatic reforms. There is now a spotlight on issues of police practice and conduct, especially in working-class, African American communities. One of the largest issues involves the evident display of distrust racial minority communities have shown in the police following the Ferguson incident. There is no one, simple answer for how police may gain the trust of all citizens, though this should be the goal of all officers and police agencies. However, an important step involves new approaches to diversity training that can assist new officers entering this career for the first time.

In this article, the authors contextualize the importance of police-community relations in culturally informed policing and provide a description of a newly implemented "diversity education" program at the University of Illinois Police Training Institute which is designed to promote fair and equitable policing practice; an emphasis of the program is on increasing racial literacy and cultural empathy.

The Importance of Preparing Recruits Properly

Effective policing requires the trust of community members. The reality, though, is that communities of color are often less trusting of the police and more likely to feel as though they are being policed in a biased manner as illustrated through the national discussion following the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. According to a recent PEW (2014) national survey, 70% of African Americans believed they were treated less fairly than their White counterparts. Historically, there has been tension between the police and African American, Latino/a, and American Indian communities (Balto, 2013, Taylor, 2013). The 1968 Kerner Commission report, for example, highlighted these concerns as the major trigger for the urban conflagrations of the 1960s. The Commission's report listed precipitating causes by three "levels of intensity", with police practices reported first under the most significant level.

Although the ongoing tension between the police and certain communities remained in the 1980s, hate crimes committed by private citizens superseded the issues of police misconduct and brutality in the public's consciousness. The police beating of Rodney King in 1991 forcibly brought the issue of police brutality to national attention. Since the King beating and the subsequent multiracial Los Angeles Riots/Rebellions, the issues of mass racialized incarceration and police brutality have become major topics of scholarly investigation and programmatic intervention. (Cha-Jua, 2014) It is anticipated that exploration of these issues will be intensified in the wake of the killing of Michael Brown.

Given the longevity of these issues, police departments have experimented with some form of "diversity training" for at least seven decades. However, as Schlosser (2011) reported, these intervention programs have changed little since the 1960s and therefore have had limited success. In addition to changing actual policing practices, scholars and police administrators have identified police training academies and regular in-service training programs as crucial for advancing fair and equitable policing (Schlosser, 2011, Bornstein, 2005, Cao, 2001).

Building on Strengths and Encouraging a New Commitment to Fair Policing

It takes special qualities to pursue a career as a law enforcement officer. …

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