The Thin White Line: Most Cops Don’t Look Like the Residents They Serve

Big city police forces have tried to become more diverse. Mostly they’ve failed.

Baltimore police faced off against protesters on April 30.David Goldman/AP

Fight disinformation: Sign up for the free Mother Jones Daily newsletter and follow the news that matters.


In Baltimore, white people make up 28 percent of the population but 50 percent of the city’s police officers. In Philadelphia, where police and protesters clashed last Thursday during a #FreddieGray rally, whites are 37 percent of the population but 58 percent of the police force. In Sacramento, whites comprise just 36 percent of residents but 72 percent of police.

Those are just a few of the departments whose ethnic makeup is dramatically out of sync with the demographics of the cities they serve. Using census data, Chris Zubak-Skees of the Center for Public Integrity crunched the numbers for the nation’s 50 most populous cities. In 49 of them—Atlanta being the lone exception—the cops are whiter than the community.

Zubak-Skees notes that police departments in many cities have worked hard to make themselves more diverse. Acting on recommendations by the 1968 Kerner Commission—which was appointed to investigate the causes of riots in Los Angeles, Chicago, Newark, and Detroit—many departments began reviewing fair promotion policies and recruiting African Americans. The numbers have improved somewhat over the years, but most big-city forces are still far from representative. The Kerner report warned that an “abrasive relationship between police and the minority communities has been a major—and explosive—source of grievance, tension, and disorder.”

“For many, those words still ring depressingly true today,” CPI notes.

The following charts give a breakdown for 15 cities, including those with the greatest disparities to those whose police forces closely reflect the people they serve. If you don’t see your city here, scroll down to the table containing all of the 50 cities Zubak-Skees examined.
 

TIME IS RUNNING OUT!

We have an ambitious $350,000 online fundraising goal this month and it's truly crunch time: About 15 percent of our yearly online giving usually comes in during the final week of the year, and in "No Cute Headlines or Manipulative BS," we explain why we simply can't afford to come up short right now.

The bottom line: Corporations and powerful people with deep pockets will never sustain the type of journalism Mother Jones exists to do. And advertising or profit-driven ownership groups will never make time-intensive, in-depth reporting viable.

That's why donations big and small make up 74 percent of our budget this year. There is no backup to keep us going, no alternate revenue source, no secret benefactor. If readers don’t donate, we won’t be here. It's that simple.

And if you can help us out with a donation right now, all online gifts will be matched thanks to an incredibly generous matching gift pledge.

payment methods

TIME IS RUNNING OUT!

We have an ambitious $350,000 online fundraising goal this month and it's truly crunch time: About 15 percent of our yearly online giving usually comes in during the final week of the year, and in "No Cute Headlines or Manipulative BS," we explain why we simply can't afford to come up short right now.

The bottom line: Corporations and powerful people with deep pockets will never sustain the type of journalism Mother Jones exists to do. And advertising or profit-driven ownership groups will never make time-intensive, in-depth reporting viable.

That's why donations big and small make up 74 percent of our budget this year. There is no backup to keep us going, no alternate revenue source, no secret benefactor. If readers don’t donate, we won’t be here. It's that simple.

And if you can help us out with a donation right now, all online gifts will be matched thanks to an incredibly generous matching gift pledge.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate