Tragic events over the past several years – including officer-involved shootings and attacks on law enforcement officers, and the demonstrations and protests these incidents have spawned – have captured the public’s attention and driven a host of policing issues from the periphery to the center of our public dialogue, including a renewed focus on increasing diversity in the nation’s law enforcement agencies. In December 2014, President Obama announced his Task Force on 21st Century Policing (Task Force). The Task Force brought together a diverse range of stakeholders – including law enforcement leaders, advocates, academics, policymakers, and community members – to explore strategies for strengthening community-police relations, reducing crime, and advancing public safety. In one of its key recommendations for “building trust and legitimacy” in community police relations, the Task Force focused on the need to ensure law enforcement agencies better reflect the diversity of the communities they serve.
Although the spotlight on these issues may seem new to some, for many – including law enforcement personnel, government officials, and community leaders – this is only one part of a decades-long conversation about how law enforcement and the communities they serve can best work together. Many law enforcement agencies, as well as organizations that work with law enforcement, have devoted considerable time, energy, and attention in their efforts to recruit and retain workforces that reflect the diversity within their jurisdictions. For many years, the Federal government has also worked to address challenges and barriers to diversity in law enforcement.