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It's not just Ferguson: US cops are less diverse than the people they police

US cops aren't as diverse as the US population, but it's nowhere near as bad as Ferguson.
US cops aren't as diverse as the US population, but it's nowhere near as bad as Ferguson.
Scott Olson

One of the more infuriating stats to come out of the situation in Ferguson is the racial breakdown of that city's police department. Just under 6 percent of that city's police officers are black, compared to two-thirds of the city's residents.

As it turns out, minorities are underrepresented nationwide among local cops, though not nearly to the degree they are in Ferguson. According to the most recent data available from the Justice Department, local cops were substantially less diverse than the rest of the population as of 2007. Only one in four local police officers identified as something other than white compared to just over 1 in 3 Americans who identified as something other than white non-Hispanic (the Justice Department appears to treat white and Hispanic as entirely separate groups in its data).

Cops race 2

So which groups are underrepresented? Breaking this down is tricky — as stated above, it appears the Justice Department puts Hispanics and all races together in one question (with each respondent choosing only one option), while the Census allows a person to identify as Hispanic (an ethnicity) plus any racial group.

But here's a stab at it. Below are the share of people who identified as Hispanic of any race, as well as those who identified as black, Asian/Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander, or American Indian alone, plus people who said they were multi-racial. This means some of the people who identify as black alone (or any other race) may also be Hispanic (and included in the Hispanic group as well). Those are compared to the local cops who chose the same categories.

Cops race ethnicity 2

Blacks are clearly underrepresented on the Ferguson police force, but nationwide it appears the Hispanic share of the population is about 50 percent bigger than the Hispanic share of local cops. Meanwhile, 12.4 percent of the US population identifies as black alone, compared to 11.9 percent of cops.

One caveat, though: these police figures differ widely from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. In particular, cities tend to have far less-white and more-Hispanic police forces. Departments that serve populations of 1,000 or more were only 56 percent white (and non-Hispanic) in 2007. That share goes up as population goes down; departments that serve populations under 2,500 were 88.3 percent white.

There is one way in which local cops are very decidedly different from the population: sex. Only 11.9 percent of cops were female in 2007, compared to nearly 51 percent of the population.

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