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More diversity may help some police departments — but it's not enough

The diversity of many cities is far from represented in their local police departments, according to an analysis by the Center for Public Integrity's Chris Zubak-Skees.

The analysis found big gaps in the racial makeup of Baltimore's predominantly black community and its white-dominated police department, as thousands protest the death of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old black man who died of a spinal cord injury after an allegedly brutal arrest.

(Chris Zubak-Skees/the Center for Public Integrity)

In terms of diversity, Baltimore isn't completely out of line with a lot of other police departments analyzed by the Center for Public Integrity. Take Philadelphia, for example:

(Chris Zubak-Skees/the Center for Public Integrity)

But what's interesting is that diversity doesn't necessarily lead to trust between the community and local police. One of the police forces that most closely mirrors its community in terms of race is the Albuquerque, New Mexico, Police Department, which has been accused of abuse — even criminal charges — and is undergoing federally enforced reforms following a Justice Department investigation.

(Chris Zubak-Skees/the Center for Public Integrity)

New York City and Chicago also have fairly representative police departments, even though they have huge problems with police-community relations.

As the Washington Post's Lydia DePillis pointed out last August, research on whether diversity in police departments improves community relations is limited and mixed. But David Sklansky, a criminal justice expert at Stanford University, told FiveThirtyEight's Batya Ungar-Sargon that more diversity can help build trust: "When the police force integrates and begins to look more like the community it's policing, it removes one big impediment toward trust. It doesn't guarantee trust, but it removes one thing that makes it hard to develop trust."

So more diversity can help, but it's not always enough. The problems in some police departments simply run much deeper, coming down to locals' day-to-day interactions with officers and the policies that drive those interactions — such as measures that encourage more and more arrests above all else.

"The bottom line is that the legitimacy of police-community interactions matters most," John Roman, senior fellow at the Urban Institute's Justice Policy Center, said in an email. "If you believe that an arrest was illegitimate, it doesn't matter what race you are and the officer is, it reduces community-police trust."

Check out the Center for Public Integrity's full report and charts.

Watch: Why it's so important to film police

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