Demonstrators swarmed New York City for the second straight night yesterday in protest of the chokehold killing of Eric Garner by the police this summer. They chanted, “How do you spell racist? N-Y-P-D!”
But some have observed that racism or not, the New York Police Department has come a long way in terms of broadening its recruits to reflect the communities it polices. In Ferguson, Missouri, there has been a lot of comment since the police shooting death in August of an unarmed black teenager about its mostly-white force (which is pretty much the norm nationwide). But in New York, a more racially diverse uniformed force hasn’t prevented tension between police and minorities.
According to a New York City workforce profile report from the mayor’s office last year, the NYPD has gone from being 50% white in 2003 to just 41% white in 2012, with black Americans accounting for 28% of officers, Hispanics comprising 24%, and Asians 6%. In June, the police department hailed the graduation of its most diverse class ever—51% of the 607 graduates were minorities. (The department still has some distance to go when it comes to gender diversity: Only 20% were women.)
As a result of the department’s diversity drive, the racial makeup of NYPD has come closer to that of the city it is charged with serving and protecting:
This shift in the NYPD’s ranks is the result of court-ordered mandates such as a ruling in 1978 that the city’s civil service exam could not be used to hire new police, which forced the department to widen its recruiting channels and eventually adopt a quota whereby at least one third of recruits had to be black or Hispanic.
Still, research on whether police force diversity results in citizens being treated more fairly is inconclusive—and some studies (not to mention rap lyrics) have shown that black communities don’t necessarily trust racially representative police forces. And the department’s leadership is not nearly as diverse as its uniformed rank and file: Among the top brass, deputy inspector rank or higher, 82% are white.
Despite the NYPD’s relatively high degree of overall diversity, its relationship with many of the city’s minorities has been poisoned by controversial tactics such as stop-and-frisk, which has predominantly targeted black and Hispanic New Yorkers. Mayor Bill de Blasio campaigned on a promise to eliminate stop-and-frisk, but the rage over Eric Garner’s death is proof that restoring New Yorkers’ trust in police won’t be any easy task.