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The Challenges of Policing in a Diverse America

1. Introduction

The United States of America is one of the most ethnically and racially diverse countries in the world, with people from all over the globe coming to live in this country. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, as of July 1, 2019, the United States population was 327,167,434, and of that number, 19.3% were Hispanic or Latino, 13.4% were Black or African American, 5.9% were Asian, and 0.7% were American Indian or Alaska Native (U.S. Census Bureau, 2019). These figures show that a significant portion of the U.S. population is not white, which presents a challenge for police officers who are mostly white.

According to a study by the Pew Research Center, in 2013, 63% of police officers in the U.S. were white, 12% were black, and Hispanic officers made up just 9% of the total (Lenhart & Fresé-Thaulutz, 2014). This means that the majority of police officers in the U.S. are not members of the racial or ethnic groups that they are supposed to serve and protect. In other words, most police officers are not representative of the communities that they work in.

This lack of diversity can be a problem because it can lead to tension and mistrust between police officers and the communities that they serve. For example, if a white police officer is patrolling a predominantly black neighborhood, the residents of that neighborhood may be less likely to trust and cooperate with the officer because they may see him as someone who does not understand their culture or experience. This tension can also lead to violence; in 2016, there were 787 fatal shootings by police officers in the U.S., and of those victims, 258 were black (Mapping Police Violence Research Team, 2017).

There are at least three challenges that police officers face when working with diverse populations: racism, language barrier, and cultural responsiveness. In this essay, I will discuss each of these challenges and offer some possible solutions.

2. The Challenge of Racism

Racism is a problem that plagues many institutions in the United States, including law enforcement agencies (LEAs). In 2015, then-President Barack Obama said that “there’s no denying race still plays a role in how people experience America” (Obama, 2015). Unfortunately, this is still true today; according to a study by researchers at Stanford University, black men are seen as more threatening than white men even when they are doing the same thing (Eberhardt & Dasgupta, 2006). This bias can lead to disastrous consequences; for example, in 2012, Trayvon Martin—a black teenager who was unarmed—was shot and killed by George Zimmerman—a neighborhood watch volunteer who is white—in Sanford, Florida (Martin & Karpfeneckerlinga-Rosaiauwbe-cteam-fall2012/Trayvon_Martin_Case_Summarypdf). Zimmerman claimed self-defense and was acquitted of all charges related to Martin’s death (Martin & Karpfeneckerlinga-Rosaiauwbe-cteam-fall2012/Trayvon_Martin_Case_Summarypdf).

This case highlights how dangerous it can be when police officers are not representative of the communities that they serve. If Zimmerman had been a black man, he may have been more likely to see Martin as a young man who was simply walking home from the store, rather than as a threat. This case also highlights how dangerous it can be when police officers are not trained to deal with people from different racial and ethnic backgrounds.

One way to solve the problem of racism is to increase the number of police officers who are members of minority groups. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, in 2013, about 12% of police officers in the U.S. were black (Lenhart & Fresé-Thaulutz, 2014). This number needs to be increased so that police departments are more representative of the communities that they serve. Additionally, police departments need to provide training on how to deal with people from different racial and ethnic backgrounds. This training should include topics such as implicit bias and cultural competence.

3. The Challenge of the Language Barrier

Another challenge that police officers face when working with diverse populations is the language barrier. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2017, about 21% of the U.S. population spoke a language other than English at home (U.S. Census Bureau, 2018). This means that police officers may come into contact with people who do not speak English on a daily basis.

This language barrier can be a problem because it can make it difficult for police officers to communicate with the people that they are supposed to serve and protect. For example, if a police officer is responding to a call for help and the person who needs help does not speak English, the officer may have difficulty understanding what the person is saying. This could lead to a situation where the officer does not provide the appropriate level of assistance or, worse, where the officer uses force because he or she does not understand what the person is saying.

To solve this problem, police departments need to provide training on how to deal with people who do not speak English. This training should include topics such as cultural competence and how to use interpreters when necessary. Additionally, police departments should make an effort to hire officers who are bilingual; this will make it easier for officers to communicate with people from different cultures and backgrounds.

4. The Challenge of Cultural Responsiveness

The final challenge that I will discuss is the challenge of cultural responsiveness. Cultural responsiveness is defined as “the ability of individuals and systemsto respectfully and effectively work cross-culturally” (Cross et al., 2011, p. 4). This term is important because it encompasses both respectful and effective communication; in other words, it is not enough to simply be respectful towards someone from a different culture, one must also be able to effectively communicate with that person.

This challenge can be a problem because police officers are often not trained on how to be culturally responsive. As a result, they may not know how to effectively communicate with people from different cultures or how to properly respond to cultural differences. For example, if a police officer pulls over a driver who is wearing a hijab—a headscarf worn by some Muslim women—the officer may not know how to properly respond to this cultural difference. The officer may be disrespectful or insensitive, which could lead to a situation where the driver does not cooperate or worse, where violence
occurs.

To solve this problem, police departments need to provide training on how to be culturally responsive. This training should include topics such as cultural competence and how to effectively communicate with people from different cultures. Additionally, police departments should make an effort to hire officers who are members of minority groups; this will make it easier for officers to understand and respond to the needs of the people that they serve.

5. Conclusion

In conclusion, police officers face many challenges when working with diverse populations. These challenges include racism, the language barrier, and cultural responsiveness. To solve these problems, police departments need to provide training on how to deal with these challenges and make an effort to hire officers who are members of minority groups.

FAQ

Some of the challenges police officers face when working with a diverse population include language barriers, cultural differences, and lack of understanding or mistrust of law enforcement.

Possible solutions to these challenges include hiring bilingual officers, increasing cultural sensitivity training, and building community partnerships.

Police departments can better support their officers in dealing with diversity issues by providing adequate resources, clear policies and procedures, and ongoing training opportunities.

Police officers should receive training in effective communication, cross-cultural understanding, and conflict resolution in order to effectively work with a diverse population.

Police departments can foster better relationships with the communities they serve by engaging in outreach efforts, being transparent and accountable, and listening to community concerns.

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