Term Paper: Minorities in Policing: Facing the Challenges Historical

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Minorities in Policing: Facing the Challenges

Historical Use of Minorities in the Police Force

The history of the police force is interesting and varied.

The paradigms associated with the force, as well as factors of social development and diversity, has made this a particularly difficult field in which minority groups such as women, African-Americans and Hispanics can find and maintain careers.

The first female police officer to be appointed in the United States was Alice Stebbing Wells (Trostle 93). She was appointed in 1910, and served at the Los Angeles Police Department. With her began the paradigm of assigning certain traditional roles to female police officers. She was for example working with juveniles, female offenders and female victims. This began a legacy of exclusion for female officers, who were often excluded from routine male dominated activities such as routine patrol and other crime fighting activities. The first women assigned to routine patrol duty only received this privilege in 1968 in Indianapolis.

Incongruent with this is the fact that women, who were often better educated than their male counterparts in the police force, were also excluded from promotional opportunities and that their entrance requirements were higher than those for men (Trostle 93).

The above has led to a historically negative attitude on the part of males to female officers. Women have been seen as physically weaker and intellectually inferior to men. As policing is also traditionally viewed as a job requiring physical rather than mental prowess, women have been viewed as unsuitable for the job.

Nonetheless, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 deems the above views as discriminatory and illegal (Palombo). According to the Title, no members of a race, sex or ethnic group should be disadvantaged by the hiring practices of any given company, including the police force. Negative attitudes however persist, despite the fact that effort has been made to include both women and other minorities in the police force. Some of these attitudes have resulted in lawsuits, an example of which is the prominent case of Fanchon Blake (Trostle 91). This female Sergeant filed a suite against the Los Angeles Police Department for unlawful discrimination, because she was denied permission to enter the lieutenant's examination. She won her case in 1980, after which certain conditions were implemented according to which minority groups should be treated.

Black and Hispanic groups have suffered the same problems when attempting to enter the police force. According to Trostle (95), law enforcement agencies discriminated against racial minorities in the same way as against women, and African-American as well as Hispanic officers only began to be hired in significant proportions during the 1990's. The racial history of the United States has thus resulted in discriminatory practices especially in the police force where crime and poverty were frequently observed in minority neighborhoods. Pressure from Congress to increase minority hiring in the police force by means of programs such as the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration and the Law Enforcement Education Program, increased resentment and other negative attitudes towards African-Americans and Hispanic officers. Conversely, the image of the police force within minority communities is far from positive (Trostle 96). This further complicates the issue of racial relations within the police department, as minority groups experience police officers as brutish, while the officers mainly view them as degenerate, criminal, or even less intelligent than an average police officer should be. These historically cultivated attitudes form part of the challenges now facing both the existing police force and new recruits.

Challenges of Minority Groups on the Force

The greatest challenge faced by women, African-Americans and Hispanics joining the police force is the attitude of white male officers towards them. Women for example are seen as weak and somewhat inadequate to handle many of the duties required of an officer. This is then one of the reasons why these groups are somewhat reluctant to apply for jobs on the police force. Some women for example may believe that police work is indeed mostly physical, and that a woman would indeed fail to measure up to the requirements. More realistically perhaps, others may feel that the limited promotion and recruitment opportunities offered to women are an obstacle that they are not willing to attempt to overcome.

This is the viewpoint offered by Bernadette Jones Palombo (63). Research has shown fairly low ambitions among women in the police force, especially if these women were also members of a minority racial group. This has inspired a poor view of them from a managerial viewpoint, whereas the low ambition may be the result of this very attitude. In this way it becomes a cycle that women and minorities have little resources to break out of.

It is furthermore suggested that social change occurs most slowly within the cultural level, as opposed to the structural and technological areas. Thus, whereas the structure and technology of policing have changed significantly, the same is not true for the cultural values within the force. One of the manifestations of this is the prejudice towards minority groups entering the force is the fact that white officers feel that the standard of policing has been lowered to favor minority groups, and that the new minority can be seen as white male officers. On the other hand, minority group officers that are hired often find themselves demoralized by what they perceive as a white male "buddy" system in the police force (Trostle 97). It is thus clear that these challenges will not be easily overcome unless there is significant effort from all parties involved.

Work Performance

The above has addressed only the recruiting and background aspects of female and minority groups within the police force. There are numerous studies investigating the actual effectiveness and performance of these officers.

Some of these are cited by Palombo (76). The studies reportedly find that gender plays no significant role in effective police work, and indeed that women perform many of the tasks better than men.

In the case of African-American and Hispanic officers, Palombo (79) finds that high intelligence scores by African-American officers correlate with ineffective departmental performance, as well as disciplinary problems. These are attributed a lack of adequate support for intelligent African-American recruits. Obviously the usual prejudice of lower intelligence does not apply here.

Turnover rates for police training and probationary field operations suggest that white females drop out at only a slightly higher rate than men. For minorities, the figures show that their success in the training program is higher than in the probationary field period (Palombo 84). The results of research cited by Palombo (85) and Trostle (91) suggest that prejudicial views regarding the mental and/or physical attributes and abilities of females and minority groups with regard to police work are the consequence of historical social paradigms rather than scientifically proven fact. Thus, in order to better suit the changing structure of the workplace within the police force, changes should be implemented to encourage matching changes in cultural values.

These are also the changes called for by David C. Cooper

Meeting the Challenge

Cooper mentions "seven seeds of policing" that can be used to meet the challenges presented by the 21st century. These include leadership, knowledge, creativity, problem solving, diversity, control of force, and community policing. These, according to Cooper, should be used to help the police department grow towards a more effective entity that reflects the society it serves. In terms of community policing for example, a representative police force will gain more trust from the public and thus be able to function better in correlation with the community.

The cultural structure of the United States is changing to become truly adherent to the Constitution begun at the country's inception. In policing, technology can be used to help reformat cultural attitudes and values. This challenge can… [END OF PREVIEW]

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