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Urban Police - Policing Minority Citizens

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Historically, cooperation and communication between police and minorities has been troubled. Williams and Murphy described a history of policing shaped by the enforcement of laws that have discriminated against minority groups, particularly African Americans. Slavery, segregation, and discrimination are historical realities that shaped the current distrustful, strained, and often hostile relationship between police and minority citizens. This poor relationship reached its pinnacle during the police-citizen crisis of the 1960s. The civil rights movement had gained momentum and become more militant. Protesters gathered to demonstrate against race discrimination and injustice within the criminal justice system. Police officers responded to protesters with physical brutality, which increased the tension between minorities and the police. This tension exploded in the form of riots and civil disobedience, often sparked by incidents involving the police (Walker, 1999).

As a result of several crime commission reports and research findings questioning the effectiveness of "professional" police organizations, police organizational strategies evolved to focus on strengthening relationships and creating partnerships between the police and citizens. Police departments attempted to improve community relations through the creation of police-community relations units, race relations training for officers, and the hiring of more minorities and women. Some of these techniques were relatively successful. As reported by Walker (1999), African American officers represented a majority of the force in departments such as Detroit, Washington, and Atlanta in 1993. In addition, African Americans were selected as police chiefs in several large departments, including New York City, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Chicago, Houston, and others. Furthermore, by the mid-1990s, women represented 13 percent of all officers in large police departments.

Despite these advances, police still struggle with minority community relations. In 1993, the acquittal of four officers accused of beating Rodney King, an African American motorist in Los Angeles, sparked race riots across the country. Other major cases of police abuse of force in the 1990s (e.g., the Louima and Diallo cases in New York City) further increased tension between the police and minorities. In 1996, 26 percent of African American citizens surveyed reported they had very little or no confidence in the police, compared to only 9 percent of white respondents (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 1996). Furthermore, when asked about attitudes toward use of force, 60 percent of whites had favorable attitudes compared to 33 percent of African Americans and 42 percent of Hispanics (Huang and Vaughn).

Serious questions regarding police discrimination remain. Studies routinely show that minorities are overrepresented as suspects who have force used against them, and who are shot and killed by officers. Worden's analysis of 1977 data showed that police were more likely to use both reasonable and unreasonable force against black male suspects. This is also true of the use of deadly force. However, changes in police departments' administrative policies led to decreases in the use of deadly force by officers. In a study of the New York City Police Department, Fyfe found that changes in the department's formal policies governing police shootings in 1972 reduced the average numbers of shots fired by officers by 30 percent. The total number of uses of deadly force decreased by nearly 50 percent from 1970 to 1984. In that same time period, the ratio of African Americans to whites who had deadly force used against them decreased from six-to-one to three-to-one (Walker, 1999). Reductions in police use of deadly force toward minorities were also noted after the fleeing-felon standard guiding police use of deadly force was ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in Tennessee v. Garner, 105 S. Ct. 1694 (1985).

African Americans are also disproportionately arrested more often than whites. It is unclear whether these disparities in arrest statistics represent actual discrimination (i.e., disparity based on extra legal factors, such as race). When other factors are taken into consideration (e.g., seriousness of the offense, the evidence available, demeanor of the suspect, etc.), it appears that arrest decisions are influenced more by situational and legal factors than strictly race (Riksheim and Chermak). However, police are more likely to police inner-city neighborhoods, which are predominantly minority areas. In this sense, police may be showing a form of contextual discrimination by heavily policing particular neighborhoods or particular types of crimes.

A concern is that police officers are profiling citizens based on race and ethnicity. The term DWB or driving while black is a vivid descriptor of this phenomenon. Minority groups claim that police are more likely to pull over motorists simply because of their race. In fact, studies of New Jersey State Police have shown that minorities are pulled over disproportionately. This same argument is made in urban areas, where minorities believe they have become the targets of police harassment through tactics of aggressive enforcement of minor crimes. Studies of police have shown that African Americans and Hispanics are disproportionately stopped, questioned, and frisked by police (Browning et al.). Surveys of citizens also indicated that African Americans and Hispanics are more likely to be stopped and interrogated by police. One survey of African American high school students revealed that 80 percent had been stopped by police and 62 percent of those stopped said the police treated them disrespectfully (Walker, Spohn, and DeLone).

At the same time, however, minority citizens complain that police are not responding to their needs in these areas. Citizens allege that police are not providing adequate protection or attention in their neighborhoods. According to Walker, this apparent contradiction can be explained by "the diversity within racial and ethnic minority communities . . . . Complaints about police harassment generally come from young males who have a high level of contact with the police. Most members of racial minority communities, however, are law-abiding adults with jobs and families. Like their white counterparts, they want more not less police protection" (1999, p. 222).

In the 1980s, new strategies of communityoriented policing have encouraged the partnership between citizens and the police. Research has shown, however, that strategies of community policing tend to have the strongest impact on neighborhoods where they are least needed. Satisfaction with community policing techniques is highest in homogeneous, higher socioeconomic status communities, and lowest in heterogeneous, lower socioeconomic status communities (Bayley, 1988). It is clear that new approaches to improve police-minority relations are needed.

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almost 3 years ago

Urban Police - Policing Minority Citizens

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about 7 years ago

I do a radio show on Sunday nights that discusses "the growing drug culture" This Sunday night I have the local Police Chief and a leader from South St Petersburg scheduled to call in. I anticipate an insightful show.

My intent is to discuss how drugs have affected the minority communities and how the rest of America with their growing drug problems should learn from the minority experience concerning drugs. Please share the concept.

Larry Golbom

The Prescription Addiction Radio Show - Breaking the Silence