An Oakland police car

According to a recent analysis of the latest census data, more than 80 percent of Bay Area police forces have a disproportionate number of white officers relative to the racial make-up of the communities they serve. As the nation’s attention focuses on issues of police and race in the wake of events in Ferguson, Missouri, we look at how the racial composition of our local police forces affects arrests and public trust in the criminal justice system.

LaDoris Cordell, independent police auditor for the City of San Jose and former Santa Clara County Superior Court judge
Diane Urban, chief of the Hayward Police Dept.
Justin McCrary, professor of law at UC Berkeley, director of the D Lab, Berkeley's big data initiative, and co-director of the crime working group of the National Bureau of Economic Research
Allwyn Brown, deputy chief of the City of Richmond Police Department
Jessica Nowaski, captain in the Mountain View Police Department

  • darqmyth

    As a black man, I am tired of hearing, if we want minority police officers, we have to dumb down the exams. How is the public served with less educated officers and stop assuming minorities can’t pass a standardized achievement test. I was a police officer in New York City in the 1970’s, they did not change the exam for me or any other minority and somehow I and they passed. Reach out to educated minorities. Reach out to minorities with drive. Reach out for what you want,. Don’t lower standards.

  • T. A.

    Can individuals who have been arrested/convicted of any crime join the police force? If not, does this sharply reduce the number of eligible minorities? I understand rates of conviction and arrest are much higher for minorities.

  • Livegreen

    I’m not sure what the #’s are in Oakland, but as a citizen here living in a diverse neighborhood, we’ve had a lot of interaction with Officers of all races. This includes a significant # of African American officers.

    After a recent incident I had the opportunity to ask a very nice officer if as an African American he got more appreciation on the job? He said the appreciation he and other black officers he knew got was the “middle finger wave”.

    The generalizations work both ways and some citizens hate ANY police. This is ALSO a BIAS.

    At the Oakland City Council meetings many activists (some black but mostly white) yell, curse, heckle OPD and accuse them ALL of racism. You look up at the command structure and most of them are black, latino and asian (including the last two police chiefs), all working together.

    I’m sure your skeptics will dismiss this with some sweeping anti-Police statements. This proves they too have their own biases and are not interested in either listening or contributing to the solution.

  • Sarah

    For the middle class (majority of which are white), a police officer is a person who helps, is there when you are in need. For lower income (majority of which are black or Hispanic), a police officer is a person to fear, one who takes away loved ones, and is not there to help but to harm. Why would you want to grow up to be a person like that? It’s not a noble profession for people who’s history with officers is so negative.

  • Alexis Reeves

    I wonder if the answer of recruiting more minorities to the police force lies in the application process itself or the culture of “fear/disgust” associated with the police force within minority communities which would keep people from applying in the first place. Do you have data on the amount of minority applications you receive versus how many are accepted and put on duty?

  • $22911251

    I spent over 10 years as a neighborhood leader in a high crime area plagued with shootings and gang violence. Naturally we worked closely with the cops, from beat cops to drug task force to the brass taking direction from city hall. Not once was the race of the cop the factor determining their work ethic, cultural and social competency, and capacity to develop respect and trust with our racially diverse neighborhood. I cannot describe the immense relief we are feeling, now in our 5th summer with very few shooting incidents after 25 summers of hell.

  • Ben Rawner

    Having lived on the east coast and the west coast I have noticed a huge difference between the policing styles. Those local styles are crafted locally and trying to solve this issue nationally is the wrong strategy. The one thing I have noticed is that black men have always been treated way more harsh than someone like me, who happens to be white. I have only been cuffed on a routine traffic stop once, and it so happens that there was a black man in the car with me. Whatever happened to innocent until proven guilty. Racism is real and a desk jocking chief is going to know little of what happens in the street.

  • 4Funnah

    Democrats discussing how many people are white, black or latino is the definition of racism. Do the host, guests and listeners realize how hypocritical they are when they say police can’t profile people based on race (which is correct), but THEY can profile how many police officers of each race is considered acceptable? Here’s a thought: ALL people should treat ALL police officers with respect, and trust and allow the court system to judge any misdeeds based on the ACTIONS of those involved. Racism can’t go away because Democrats will always decry the needs of some minority (even whites one day). I don’t need the officers in my neighborhood to be white for me to respect them; I simply need to respect them no matter who they are! Where’s the condemnation of the neighborhoods who teach their kids to distrust police officers? Where’s the condemnation of the neighborhoods because they have much higher crime rates? Here comes more Democrats bringing race into it again!

  • Kathryn Hopping

    I am interested in what your panelists think about white privilege and how it underlies policy and beliefs. I think this is a powerful problem that goes beyond simple bias.

  • Scott Law

    Here’s a radical idea. Lets hire police and civilian public safety employees according to how qualified they are. In Oakland, non white populations are overwhelmingly the victims of all crimes, especially violent crime. Those non white populations would be much better served by competent policing rather than the skin color or sexual orientation or gender of police officers. Oakland’s homicide clearance rate is the lowest in the state – how about more Lt Columbos types in the force ?

  • heidi

    I think other factors such as weight requirements for police officers. Currently you have to be a certain weight to be selected on force but once on the force weight isn’t an issie. BMi versus physical fitness for various ethnic groups may not be the same as the traditional insurance guidelines that most programs are based on.

  • Carolyn Dixon

    I worry about officers that have served war time and if they belong on a residential street. It seem that they are unable to stop shooting. Some of these kids could have survived a single gunshot.

  • Livegreen

    My understanding: It’s NOT legal in California for ANY City to oblige ANY civil servant to live in their city or community (supported by municipal unions broadly). Once it’s the law you can’t force just the police to be the exception.

    Is this correct and should these laws be changed to benefit the communities?

  • Rob Jab

    Does prop 209 affect police recruitment in California?

  • ScottJ

    A large part of this issue relates to recruiting and selection criteria. I am a recently retired officer who worked for a while in recruiting. When an agency hires only 1% of applicants. those with higher education levels and work experience get hired. It’s similar to the recent attention to the lack of diversity in the tech sector. Employers want to hire the most qualified candidates regardless of race. The solution will include better education and opportunities for minorities in general.

    Thank you for this important program.

  • Molly Kullman

    I would urge listeners to check out a show I just saw in Berkeley, from a current police officer – who is black. He really addresses issues about perception and notions of justice. The show is called Cops and Robbers at The Marsh Berkeley and we found it mind blowing!

  • Seventy Three

    I’m English and I moved here 9 years ago. Community policing is good in England and the police are viewed as helpers.

    • Robert Thomas

      I’m not English and have never lived in England. However, I started traveling in England as a young adult in the early 1980s. I’ve visited several times since, once for an extended period (about a year).

      I observed that as you say, in the UK, police officers generally have a far less tense relationship with the public – especially, this is an attitude shared among white indigenous British people.

      However, I have witnessed several shocking incidents (shocking, in the sense of being surprising and unexpected) of violence against members of the public perpetrated by unarmed British police. In particular, One incident was in Doncaster and one in London in the late eighties and another was in Bath about fifteen years ago. In each case, I did nothing and said nothing to anyone in response, which is shameful. In the earlier two cases I was young, inexperienced and traveling alone and other people observed what I observed. All three times, this was the vigorous beating of a man (also all three times, a very inebriated man, I believe, of the same ethnicity as the officer[s]) by the police. I don’t know if anyone else witnessed the beating I saw in Bath. Why would I go back to such a place? I love England.

      The difference I feel between tense situations with constables in The U.S. and in the UK (and in France, where I saw a less violent “kerfuffle”, once) that I have internalized is this – dicey situations in the:

      U.S.: quickly devolve into “us vs. them” (i.e., “us vs. everyone else”), fake-military institutional vocabulary, Thin Blue Line, “Not only is my weapon large, but these bullets in my belt aren’t for show”, “I work out incessantly and could crush you with a bicep curl”, “Have a nice day”.

      UK: are always “Don’t ____ with us. There’re are more of us than there is of you and the properly-behaving people love us.” “Won’t listen? Too bad for you!”

      As for saying nothing, I have no excuse. I admit to having been unsettled a bit early on in Britain, by those signs you see in parks and other public places that confine free expression to the quaint, well-known precincts set aside for loonies and tourists. “The Dean and Chapter” respectfully requests that you “move along.”

  • James Artman

    I grew up in a racist family, was in a special operations unit in the military as a sniper for 8 years, and have since been studying molecular biology for the past two years. Last year I stumbled upon the National Geographic documentary called the Human Family Tree. Aside from studying biology, that documentary breaks down by use of the global genographic project why we all look different due to environmental conditions. The lead genetecist of the project linked several hundred very diverse people from new york via DNA markers all to the same two people. After watching this documentary racism no longer makes any sense. Maybe this should be a mandatory training video for public servants.

  • Samuel

    Over the winter I went to watch my brother get sworn in and his badge and a few months later a friend as well and on thing I noticed was the stark difference in how most of the legacy officers where sworn in by other family members in on the force where as most of the minority officers seemed to be first generation officers dose this not make a natural contrasts in recruits

  • nshakoor

    Judge Cordell’s comment hit the angle correctly: the historical use of the terms used to describe persons of color (“black” = African American and “white” = Caucasian American) has to be introduced into the conversation going to the root of why “race” is an issue with regard to “blacks and whites”. To the point: “yellow” is not a term used to describe persons of Asian descent (although it has been used to derogatorily refer to those of that ethnicity in the past); same with “red” skin to refer to the original Native Americans.

  • Robert Thomas

    Judge Cordell is right to note that personal video monitoring is a complicated thing to do properly.

    However, the canned response that “It just depends how much you to want spend on this in place of more police…” is a canard.

    How much do metropolitan police forces and their communities (and insurors) pay out in civil judgements due to police misfeasance?

  • Corey

    What about how prospective cops are rejected for being too smart? It was ruled officially permissible to reject applicants to the police force based on them having too high an IQ! Do we really want only less intelligent people with that kind of daily power over life and death? Especially given that they now have military grade weapons?

  • Ranjeet Tate

    I’m glad that Prof. Krasny mentioned the issue of class and not just race. It is absurd to imagine that in Mountain View the children of Asian, Indian or East European software engineers are going to aspire to be police officers. In Cupertino for example, we Asians and Indians would consider our kids a failure if they became cops. So what kind of cops do we want? Well, like the whites, we prefer the chicanos to be our gardeners and custodial staff, the blacks to be entirely absent and the whites to be our cops who keep the “other” communities out.

    Which brings up another point: Prof. Krasny and his panelists keep talking about “police and the communities they serve”. In white suburbia that may be true: cops serve as role models, let off fire-setting drug-selling white boys with gentle warnings and keep the racial riff-raff out. But elsewhere, the notion of “police community service” is oxymoronic. Look at the weaponry that is available to cops in white suburbia vs. that of the the Oakland or Ferguson cops. The function of the police in those communities is similar to that of prison wardens or of an occupying force: treat everyone with suspicion and prevent “them” from getting out into the “home territories”.

    Expecting “demographic representativeness” in those circumstances is absurd, the police are no more than a reflection of us as a society and our racism, violence, intolerance and lack of humanity.

    • thucy

      But tell us what you REALLY think.
      Just kidding. You make truly valid points, most of which will be ignored in the polarized black-white approach to the issue.

      • Ranjeet Tate

        What I REALLY think is that society as a whole and the people who can solve the problem are not really interested in doing so. “Post-racial” white people get really uncomfortable when I ask them to think about what would happen if their white boys got shot by a black or hispanic cop. It isn’t as if white cops slaughtering black and hispanic boys by shooting them in the back while they are lying on the ground is anything new.

        • concerneth

          That you state you would view your children as failure if they became police officer is astounding to me.

          I wish people like you would take your money and your smart brains and go back to where ever you come from.

  • dsinkovits

    I live in the east hills of San Jose. A Judge, a Deputy DA and 2 lawyers are among my neighbors, and my 25-y.o. nephew is a decorated police officer in Los Angeles area of Watts. So my grandchild has always respected the police officers/sheriffs in our community. By the time he was 18 he was 6’7″ and had darker completion that the rest of the community. He would get stopped almost nightly, coming up the hill from school. One evening He and his girlfriend’s cousin had an-adult supervised argument, about the way the cousin was touching his girlfriend. All four were on the sidewalk next to the local library branch. 2 SJ police stopped, and were told by the adults that all was under control. My grandson told the officers “are you going to arrest me, go ahead an arrest me.” He extended his arms, he was handcuffed to his back. The officers took him to the parking lot in back of the building, put him on a choke hold while the other officer kicked him and punched him. He was unconscious for a day after arriving by ambulance. He suffered broken ribs and facial bones.
    He was released to us a day later. I went to the location to check for camera videos. I was told the police had been there the day before, asking the same question.
    I called Judge Cordell’s office. 5 days later I got a return call. By that time we were being “threatened” over the phone, calling & hanging.
    We decided to send our grandson away for fear that he would be killed. He has not returned.
    My latino and black students are contantly being stopped & harassed both downtown and on the east side of San Jose and native born are stopped and asked for their papers!
    Judge Cordell needs to visit Alum Rock & White any weekend night to see first hand how brown and black members of the community are treated.
    Dixie G. Sinkovits

    • Robert Thomas

      You describe an horrendous experience.

      How much do you expect the police’s behavior was due to the officers’ ethnicity? A lot? Some?

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