Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster announced Sunday that he will convene a two-day public workshop to explore solutions to the lack of racial diversity in Missouri’s urban law enforcement agencies.
In a news release announcing his intention, Koster cited Sunday’s article in The Kansas City Star and an article in the St. Louis Post Dispatch that each highlighted the low numbers of African Americans and other minorities in the police forces of Missouri’s urban and large suburban police departments.
“We are all searching for ways to increase respect and communication between law enforcement and the communities they protect,” Koster said in his announcement. “One way to achieve this is for police agencies to more accurately reflect the diversity of the communities they serve.”
The Star reported Sunday that none of the metro area’s most racially diverse cities — the two Kansas Cities plus Grandview and Raytown — has enough minority officers on its force to mirror its community’s racial makeup. In Grandview, which has a population that is nearly 41 percent African-American, the 53-officer force has one African-American officer. The racial disparity in Kansas City, Mo., and Kansas City, Kan., is less glaring but still exists.
Area police chiefs said they are making a concerted effort to address the lack of minority and women officers.
But they also noted that many African Americans distrust the police and don’t consider law enforcement a desirable career choice. To address the problem, Kansas City Police Chief Darryl Forte told The Star that he has implemented a coordinated recruitment plan to try to reach out to minority candidates and remove barriers that might intimidate people against applying.
The Post-Dispatch found a similar lack of diversity on the eastern side of the state. The Post-Dispatch contacted 36 St. Louis County police departments in cities where at least 10 percent of the population was African-American. In 30 of the 31 communities that responded, the percentage of black residents was higher than their police force representation. While areas patrolled by the St. Louis County police are about 25 percent black, 10 percent of the county police force is black, according to the newspaper.
The lack of diversity on urban police forces was brought into a harsh spotlight two weeks ago after an unarmed black teen was killed by a white officer in Ferguson, Mo. While 67 percent of Ferguson’s residents are African-American, only 7 percent of the city’s commissioned police officers are African-American, according to the Post-Dispatch.
In his announcement, Koster said he would invite police chiefs, school administrators, students, community and neighborhood leaders, guidance counselors and others to identify the best ways to encourage minority candidates to pursue law enforcement careers.
“The law enforcement community should reach out to young people by the 10th and 11th grades,” Koster said. “It is important to learn what challenges they face, show them role models in law enforcement, and open their eyes to how their participation in policing can benefit their own lives and the communities in which they live.”
Koster is tentatively planning to meet Oct. 1 in St. Louis and Oct. 2 in Kansas City, although his staff said he is still reaching out to local officials to confirm dates, times and locations.
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