The demographics of NC law enforcement don't match the communities they serve, data shows

Thursday, May 20, 2021
Demographics of NC law enforcement don't match their communities: Data
Of the largest 100 metro areas in the nation, the Raleigh-Cary and Durham-Chapel Hill metro areas have the largest gaps in diversity between law enforcement agencies and the general population.

FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. (WTVD) -- Without his Fayetteville Police Department badge, Darry Whitaker is another Black man in America.

The 54-year-old Desert Storm veteran retired from the department last August after 23 years of service. He worked alongside fellow officers during the global social justice movement last summer, monitoring demonstrations in Fayetteville after the murder of George Floyd.

"Looking at George Floyd's case, you have something that went awry and no one acted accordingly who could have," Whitaker said. "Now you have someone who doesn't have a family member around."

Whitaker said when law enforcement agencies lack diversity, bias seeps through, and those they are sworn to protect could pay the price for that bias.

In Fayetteville, the police department is 65% white, 18% Black, and 11% Hispanic or Latino. But according to the American Community Survey, the population of the city is 36% white, 40% Black and 13% Hispanic/Latino.

"I see the department numbers aren't that good," Whitaker said. "I get it, but I have seen department numbers a lot lower in my career. This is probably one of the highest that I've seen during my career."

One solution, Whitaker said, is the Fayetteville Police Department's active efforts to recruit officers that reflect the community they serve by offering incentives such as relocation assistance, sign-on bonuses and other programs.

But further up I-95, the disparity grows. The ABC11 data team analyzed employment information from the Census to see whether law enforcement officers demographically reflect the communities they serve. In order to come to these conclusions, the team calculated demographics for all persons serving as sworn law enforcement officers--not by department but by metro area, which includes a large city center and its surrounding suburban counties. In this way, the team hoped to reflect how people regularly encounter law enforcement officers as they commute across city and county lines.

For example, the Raleigh-Cary metro area includes Wake, Franklin and Johnston counties, while the Durham-Chapel Hill metro area includes Durham, Orange, Person, Granville and Chatham counties. Law enforcement agencies in these metro areas include city police departments, sheriff's offices, college campus police, transit police and more.

Of the largest 100 metro areas in the nation, the Raleigh-Cary and Durham-Chapel Hill metro areas have the largest gaps in diversity between law enforcement agencies and the general population.

In Wake, Franklin and Johnston counties, the general population is 60% white, 19% Black, 10% Latino, 6% Asian and less than one percent American Indian and Pacific Islander. However, law enforcement officers across the area are 82% white, 9% Black and 5% Latino--revealing a large gap.

In Durham, Orange, Granville, Person and Chatham counties, white residents make up 55% of the communities, while Black residents are 25%, Hispanic/Latino residents are 11%, Asian residents are 4% and American Indians and Pacific Islanders are less than 1%. However, law enforcement officers in the area are 77% white, 18% black and 5% Hispanic/Latino.

"If we do not improve diversity within police departments, we won't be able to stop and solve the George Floyd situations, the Breonna Taylor situations, the Andrew Brown Jr. situations," Whitaker said.

But Raleigh-Apex NAACP President Gerald Givens said it's that dark history of overpolicing Black communities that influences minorities not to apply for law enforcement jobs.

"When we are approached, we aren't given the same space or same audacity that other whites are given in the same situations," Givens said.

Givens said the answer is for more community policing and recruitment, with more minorities in positions of leadership. And data does show that among police supervisors, the disparities are not as stark.

Across Wake, Franklin and Johnston counties, 54% of police supervisors are white, 37% are Black and 5% are Hispanic/Latino, meaning law enforcement supervisors are more diverse than the people they serve.

And in Durham, Orange, Granville, Person and Chatham counties, 57% of police supervisors are white, 35% are Black and 9% are Hispanic/Latino--much closer to the makeup of the general metro area population.

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While Durham and Raleigh are currently searching for new police chiefs, both cities most recently had a Black woman as chief. Fayetteville currently has a Black woman at the head of the city's police department. Wake, Durham and Cumberland counties all have Black sheriffs leading the sheriff's offices.

But Givens said even more so than hiring those minority leaders, law enforcement agencies must give them the ability to work on the issues at hand.

"You think you're going to satisfy the concerns of the citizens because you hire a police chief that looks like me?" Givens said. "That's nice and a start, but you've got to give that African American police chief the tools to solve the problem."

John Midgette, the executive director of the North Carolina Police Benevolent Association, said the issue is not unique to the Triangle. He said most of the more than 500 law enforcement agencies across the state don't reflect the communities they serve.

"We have told them that if you want quality applicants--regardless of race, creed or color--you're going to have to treat them like professionals, and we're being ignored," Midgette said. "We do not have a system where an officer can come forward professionally and talk about what's wrong, and we need to. That officer is subject to being fired if they don't meet the narrative of that department."

Back in Fayetteville, it's too soon to tell if the police department's recruitment efforts will yield more officers of color, but Whitaker remains hopeful that his former employer will set the example for others.

"If the local Fayetteville agency can do it, I'm fairly confident that these other major cities, their police departments can do it."

Other departments offered their own solutions. In written statements, representatives for Durham Police Department and Raleigh Police Department said their agencies attend job fairs, community events and career symposiums, many of which are held at HBCUs, women's colleges, community colleges and military installations. Durham Police Department also hosts open houses for prospective applicants.

"The Raleigh Police Department has continued to maintain the clearly defined objective of increasing the percentage of qualified women and minorities employed by the department to a level that more accurately reflects that of the surrounding community," the spokesperson wrote. "The overarching goal of this strategy is to promote stronger community ties as well as foster an increased sense of cooperation, trust, and understanding between the Raleigh Police Department and the community, in addition to selecting and hiring a diverse group of qualified applicants."

A spokesperson for the Town of Cary Police Department said the agency offers a paid cadet program that pays for officers to attend basic training so cost is not a barrier to enter the career.

Orange and Cumberland County Sheriff's Offices both offer a citizen's academy to allow people to take a deeper dive into the opportunities within law enforcement. Orange County also offers internships to high school and college students, as well as working with two local high school programs on Public Safety.

While Wake County Sheriff's Office did not report any specific recruiting practices to attract people of color and women to the job, a spokesperson sent the following written statement, "Diversity is paramount from top-to-bottom in creating a welcoming workplace for all."