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Incorporating diversity: police response to multicultural changes in their communities.

A great demographic change is taking place in the United States, making the population much more multicultural and diverse than it used to be. As with other kinds of social changes, law enforcement agencies must adapt to the population shifts in their communities.

This article discusses the findings of a study undertaken to determine how law enforcement agencies in four California cities responded to demographic changes that took place in their communities between 1980 and 1994. The departments in San Jose, Long Beach, Stockton, and Garden Grove(1) now police cities where African Americans, Asians, and Hispanics represent almost 50 percent of the population, an average of a 17-percent increase in the ethnic population since 1980. The departments have employed a number of strategies to best serve their changing communities.


All four police departments have made concerted efforts to incorporate into their organizations the varied and diverse members of their communities. Through recruiting and hiring strategies, citizen participation, training programs both for employees and community members, community outreach initiatives, and community policing, each department has embraced its diverse community groups.

Recruiting and Hiring

San Jose developed a philosophy that recognizes and espouses the value of a diversified work force. This philosophy provided the fundamental ingredient that fostered the attitude necessary to lay the foundation for a successful recruiting and hiring strategy. Many of San Jose's recruiting efforts involve officers as culturally diverse as the applicants they seek. The recruiters seek out potential applicants by attending events, such as festivals and job fairs, frequented by people from a variety of ethnic backgrounds, by advertising in bilingual publications, and by offering incentives to applicants who speak more than one language.

In addition to these fairly traditional approaches, San Jose also developed some unique ways to recruit and promote ethnically diverse employees. The department's program rewards officers with up to 40 hours of paid leave if the individuals they recruit become police officers. The department also helps all officer candidates to overcome obstacles, cultural or otherwise, in preparing for the department's written tests. Mentors from ethnically diverse police officer associations within the department help newly hired officers acclimate to the department.

San Jose's efforts to incorporate representatives of diverse groups do not stop at the entry level. The department continually monitors the composition of special units, such as the detective, gang, training, and personnel units, to ensure that they represent the department and the community. Officers can serve in special units for only 3 years so that all members of the department have an opportunity to do so.

The department also incorporates diversity into its promotional procedures. Recruiting efforts and community relations are enhanced when community members from diverse backgrounds see people similar to themselves in a variety of positions and ranks throughout the department.

Similar to San Jose, the Long Beach, Garden Grove, and Stockton Police Departments have taken steps to recruit and hire personnel who reflect the cultural composition of their communities. Special emphasis has been placed on recruiting Asian applicants because of the large increase in Asian populations in these communities over the past decade.

All three departments hired individuals specifically to work with the Asian community and to attract more Asian applicants. Community leaders in Long Beach also help by training people within their cultural groups so they can qualify as potential candidates for positions within the police department and in city government in general. In addition, Long Beach established an Asian Affairs Advisory Committee, while Garden Grove works with the City Cultural Cohesiveness Committee to improve its recruiting efforts.

Citizen Participation

All four departments have undertaken successful efforts that bring diverse individuals into their organizations at different levels. These include civilian community service officer, reserve officer, police cadet, Law Enforcement Explorer, and Police Athletic League programs. Such initiatives provide excellent opportunities for police departments to familiarize citizens with agency operations.

These police departments also use a variety of methods for determining the concerns of community members. Forming advisory groups representative of the entire community has proven to be one effective way to establish collaborative relationships with diverse groups. Advisory groups give residents a voice and help them ensure that the department understands their unique needs and serves them in a professional manner. Such groups also prompt police agencies to be more open and responsive to the community.

In addition to forming advisory boards, departments developed neighborhood groups and solicited information through focus groups and citizen surveys. As many agencies move toward a more service-oriented, community-involved approach to policing, it will become increasingly important for the police to try to represent the wide variety of community groups in the ranks of employees and to incorporate the voices of the full range of citizens.


All four police departments conduct training programs to teach employees about the many cultures within their communities. The length of the programs varies tremendously, from a few-hour presentation to a week-long course.

In the two larger departments, San Jose and Long Beach, the programs are components of advanced officer training and are offered only to sworn personnel. The two smaller agencies, Stockton and Garden Grove, provide training to all employees. Most of the programs call on community members to facilitate the training, and the departments have developed rather uncommon approaches to their cultural diversity training.

In San Jose, the police chief sought input from members of the advisory board to design the cultural diversity training program for the department. Based on their suggestions, the training starts with a segment on change. It addresses a wide range of concerns relevant to individual and organizational change, including understanding the process of change and overcoming resistance. The initial instruction and the discussions that arose from it helped to eliminate many of the barriers that often occur when dealing with new issues, ideas, and approaches.

The Long Beach Police Department collaborated with the National Conference of Christians and Jews to develop its 40-hour cultural awareness training course for all department employees. In addition to general topics related to cultural diversity, the program addresses some nontraditional subjects of interest, such as Anglo cultures, the police culture, the homeless, and various religions.

Long Beach also emphasizes cultural diversity awareness in its basic recruit training academy. Recruits receive 8 hours of classroom instruction devoted to diversity awareness, and then they spend 16 training hours with citizens from the various ethnic groups within the city. Recruits and citizens thus have an opportunity to interact in a nonconfrontational, positive way.

In addition to cultural awareness training, all four departments encourage or provide training in the various languages spoken within their communities. Bilingual or multilingual officers can be very helpful to their departments and their communities. Unfortunately, as communities become more and more diverse, the number of languages spoken increases as well, and it becomes difficult for agencies to cope. Still, by encouraging all officers to learn other languages, departments can facilitate communication with the full spectrum of community members.


To respond to the needs of their diverse communities, the police agencies in the study tried a variety of approaches, including police substations, citizen police academies, and youth programs. Many of these initiatives did not target ethnic neighborhoods in particular; instead, they impacted the police department's responsiveness to all community members.

Police Substations

The San Jose and Garden Grove departments have placed substations in areas where very distinct populations live. Police employees, representatives from other government agencies, and citizen volunteers who speak the residents' languages staff the substations.

Staff members work closely with merchants, apartment complex owners, and residents to ensure police responsiveness to the needs of each community. Especially in large cities, substations provide citizens the opportunity to access needed government services. They also enable government employees to establish personal relationships with community members.

Citizen Police Academies

A number of police departments across the United States have adopted citizen police academies. Through these academies, police agencies seek to educate community members about the roles and responsibilities of police officers and to familiarize the public with the departments and how they work within the community.

San Jose and Garden Grove both have citizen police academies. San Jose includes a wide variety of community members in its classes. Garden Grove requires members of its community policing advisory board to attend the academy to acquaint them with the functions, policies, and operations of the police department.

As noted, to be responsive to all citizens, police departments must find out what their communities need. Similarly, departments also should educate their communities about the functions of the police department, as well as any changes that occur within the department. An open exchange of information between each community and its police department promotes understanding and greater cooperation.

Youth Programs

All four departments have developed youth-centered programs to enhance their relationships with young people in their communities. These programs generally focus on at-risk youth, who often come from culturally diverse backgrounds.

Initiatives include assigning beat officers to schools, conducting educational programs, and sponsoring Police Athletic Leagues. Officers teach Drug and Alcohol Resistance Education (D.A.R.E.), participate in after-school activities, and become involved in the schools as role models, mentors, and counselors.

Involving diverse youth in Law Enforcement Explorer and police cadet programs also has proven advantageous. Youngsters learn self-discipline and often develop improved self-esteem. For students interested in law enforcement careers, these programs expose them to the department and provide them opportunities to learn about policing.

Through these programs, the departments have focused on getting the police and young people together in positive circumstances. Relationships between police and children have improved tremendously in the schools where officers have been assigned. Young people and officers get involved with each other in positive settings that benefit both groups. Positive contacts made through these programs often translate into improved relationships between officers and the children's families as they interact outside the school environment.


Many members of the law enforcement profession believe that community policing provides the best method for being responsive to and involved in the community. As an organizational philosophy, it promotes a set of values and corresponding procedures that form the basis for police-community interaction to solve problems. Community policing reverses the notion that the police have sole responsibility for maintaining public order, recognizing instead that the community at large is responsible for the conditions that generate crime.

Empowering the community to solve its own problems is the key to making community policing work. This means that the police and members of the community--neighbors, families, individuals, schools, organizations, churches, and businesses--must accept the challenge to assume joint responsibility for the community's safety and well-being.

The four departments studied, similar to many police agencies across the country, have taken steps to implement community policing. Many of the initiatives already described are components of those efforts. Most of the agency personnel interviewed for this study believe that this approach offers the best opportunity for responding effectively to changing and diverse communities. Only by listening to and working with community members can the police determine what needs to be done and how best to do it.

Officers in San Jose, Stockton, and Garden Grove were reassigned from normal patrol duties to specific neighborhoods. These officers formed partnerships with community groups to identify and solve neighborhood problems. The police arranged their priorities based on the problems identified by residents. Some of the strategies employed by these departments for solving community problems included community surveys, meetings, education, and involvement; neighborhood cleanups; citizen patrols; school and youth programs; government and social service involvement; and community empowerment initiatives.

The San Jose, Stockton, Long Beach, and Garden Grove departments are all moving toward implementing community policing department-wide. These departments believe that to be successful they must involve all stakeholders in tailoring their philosophies and processes to meet the specific needs of their communities. Department employees, as well as community members, must participate in the development of community policing as a law enforcement approach in order for it to be effective. Such participation raises two important sets of expectations--those between individual employees and the police organization and those between the community members and the organization. Police leaders must work to balance these expectations in order to move effectively toward community policing.

To begin this process, the agencies formed internal committees composed of a cross-section of department members to determine the particular approach most suitable for each department. After establishing a general internal philosophy and approach, representatives from the agencies then met with community members to design specific strategies for the various communities within their cities.

Everyone involved in implementing community policing should recognize that it is not a fixed or standardized program. It is not a structured model of policing that can be replicated and transferred from agency to agency with ease. Rather, departments must adopt philosophies and approaches that meet the unique needs of their communities. Only in this way will community policing provide the promised benefits for police departments who want to serve their diverse communities effectively.


A common theme became apparent during the study of these four California police departments: Leadership makes a difference. New leaders in each organization led all four departments in making significant strides toward enhanced responsiveness to their communities. Interviews with department members revealed that what distinguished the new leaders from their predecessors was the ability to translate intentions into realities. Because they could deal effectively with their constituencies both inside and outside the organization, these leaders could turn their visions for their departments into action and reality.(2)

The current leaders recognized the influence of relationships among the agency, the individual employees, and the community members on organizational responsiveness. The leaders first addressed internal issues, because it is important to attend to employees' needs before addressing the needs of the community. Next, they developed strategies for dealing with police-community relationships.

These strategies reflect both a concern for community problems and a social responsibility that goes beyond law enforcement. They include service dimensions that recognize that crime prevention is a community matter and suggest that the police broaden their approach beyond merely responding to crime. The approaches adopted by the leaders of all four agencies recognize that the police must become more problem-oriented; they must scrutinize problems, obtain as much information as possible from everyone involved or affected, and only then develop solutions.(3)


All four agencies set the goal of being responsive to their changing communities. As shown by the various strategies and programs employed by each agency, there are many ways to achieve that goal. Developing positive relationships with young people from diverse backgrounds, actively seeking input on departmental operations from the full spectrum of community members, conducting imaginative police training in the areas of cultural sensitivity and improved communication, and adopting the community policing philosophy moved these agencies toward their goals.

There is no guarantee that every effort to improve police service to a changing and diverse society will be successful. Yet, these four agencies show that imaginative and resourceful moves toward responding to changes in their communities can be made.

The United States historically has been noted for incorporating people from all over the world into a common society. Once again, the country is being called upon to open its arms to people from many backgrounds, and police departments must do their part. By embracing all segments of their communities, agencies can tap into the vast resources of their many members. By drawing on those strengths, the police and the public can work together to make communities safer for everyone.

RELATED ARTICLE: Increased Population Diversity

During the 1980s, 6 million people legally immigrated to the United States. In the previous two decades combined, only 7.4 million immigrants legally entered the country. Census information shows that between 1980 and 1990 the country's population of Asians doubled, from 1.5 percent to 3 percent of the U.S. population. The Hispanic population grew by half, from 6.4 percent to 9 percent of the population by 1990. Despite the rapid growth among immigrant groups, African Americans continue to be the largest minority group in the United States, representing 12.1 percent of the population in 1990.

The diversity of the United States is expected to expand even more. Projections by the U.S. Census Bureau suggest that Asians will continue to be the fastest-growing race in America, reaching 11 percent of the population by the year 2050. Hispanics are expected to eclipse African Americans as the largest minority group by the year 2010 and to increase to 21 percent of the population by 2050. By that year, the number of African Americans probably will rise to 16 percent of the total population, while the number of whites will fall from 75 percent to 53 percent of the population. By 2050, the U.S. population will be divided almost evenly between minorities and non-Hispanic whites.(4)

Source Chris Swingle, "U.S. Minorities Expected to Grow by 2050," Democrat and Chronicle, Rochester, New York, December 1992, 1.

 Ethnic Changes in Total Population

 1980 Ethnic 1990 Ethnic
 Population Population Increase

San Jose 36% 50.4% 14.4%
Long Beach 33% 50.5% 17.5%
Stockton 43% 56.0% 13.0%
Garden Grove 22% 45.3% 23.3%


(1) The 1990 census showed the populations of these cities as: San Jose, 782,248; Long Beach, 429,423; Stockton, 226,255; and Garden Grove, 1 49,700. (2) Warren Bennis, "The Artform of Leadership," in Public Administration in Action, ed. Robert B. Denhardt and Barry Hammond (Pacific Grove, CA: Brooks/Cole Publishing, 1992), 31 1-315. (3) Roy Roberg and Jack Kuykendall, Police Organization and Management, Behavior, Theory, and Processes (Pacific Grove, CA: Brooks/Cole Publishing, 1990), 48-52.
COPYRIGHT 1995 Federal Bureau of Investigation
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1995, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:includes related article on immigrants
Author:Bennett, Brad R.
Publication:The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin
Date:Dec 1, 1995
Previous Article:"Good faith": police reliance on computerized information.
Next Article:Students for Justice: teaching young people about the justice system.

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