DOJ: Background Checks Discourage Diversity across Police Ranks

Female U.S. Cop

A Justice Department report shows U.S. law enforcement lacks diversity mainly because of citizenship requirement and tight background checks. The department found overreliance on the two criteria may make some racial communities underrepresented among police ranks.

Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta believes diversity within law enforcement could boost the local communities trust in the police. Also it can improve policing altogether.

The report revealed the practice of police departments’ habit of performing criminal background checks on applicants may “disproportionately” disadvantage minorities.

Nevertheless, the report’s authors described background checks as “undeniably justified” when law enforcement agencies prospect potential hires. But the report’s authors believe that a criminal record or history of drug use should not disqualify a minority applicant.

DOJ Pinpoints Unwarranted Barriers to Diversity

The report concludes that background checks can become an “unwarranted” barrier if they are not done correctly. The DOJ advises police departments to take same factors into consideration when analyzing an applicant’s criminal record.

For instance, departments should take into consideration the severity of the offense, the amount of time passed since the offense, and the candidate’s changes in behavior as well during the hiring process.

The report also found that the requirement for all law enforcement agents to have U.S. citizenship represents a major obstacle. Report authors argue that many ethnic and racial minorities can become valuable members of the police despite lack of citizenship. For example, many of them are fluent in multiple languages, the report reads.

In addition, the DOJ underscored multiple other factors that prevent racial minorities and women from joining the nation’s police departments. For example, physical and written tests are a major obstacle. And giving preference points to veterans can also discourage diversity.

The DOJ does not imply that police departments intentionally discourage diversity through these policies. The department, however, recommends law enforcement agencies to admit these policies represent a barrier and look for solutions.

Women, Racial Minorities Underrepresented

According to a 2013 report, African Americans and Latinos each accounted for 12 percent of the number of sworn police officers. In total, 27 percent of police officers belonged to a racial or ethnic minority.

But Obama administration wants to increase those numbers. Plus, women, who account for half of the nation’s population, encounter difficulties when they apply for a position with the law enforcement. In 2010, just 12 percent of U.S. police officers were women.

The recent DOJ report stems from a federal evaluation of the Ferguson Police Department, after the fatal shooting of a black male by a white cop in the Missouri town.

After the shooting, the White House’s Task Force on 20th Century Policing demanded more cultural, racial, ethnic and gender diversity among police ranks. The goal was to raise representation of the communities those departments serve.

Administration officials said the latest report seeks to promote a diverse workforce among law enforcement and to help agencies find strategies to reach that goal if they lack diversity.

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