Written By ESR News Blog Editor Thomas Ahearn
The Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) have released a comprehensive report entitled “Advancing Diversity in Law Enforcement” that examines many promising practices as well as possible barriers – including criminal background checks – in recruitment, hiring, and retention for advancing diversity in law enforcement.
Developed with support from the Center for Policing Equity, the report builds on recommendations of the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, noting that while greater workforce diversity alone cannot ensure fair and effective policing, a significant and growing body of evidence suggests that diversity can make policing more effective, more safe, and more just.
“When law enforcement agencies remove barriers to equal opportunity, the agencies and the diverse communities that they serve both stand to benefit,” EEOC Chair Jenny R. Yang stated in a press release about the report. “This report raises up some of the most promising recruitment and retention practices of these departments.” Some promising practices highlighted include:
- Ensuring that the agency’s organizational culture is guided by community policing, procedural justice and cultural inclusivity;
- Engaging stakeholders both from within and outside the law enforcement agency to help create a workforce that reflects the diversity of the community; and
- Being willing to re-evaluate employment criteria, standards, and benchmarks to ensure that they are tailored to the skills needed to perform job functions, and consequently attract, select, and retain the most qualified and desirable sworn officers.
“This report is a resource for law enforcement agencies as they work to ensure that their ranks reflect the communities they serve – not simply by identifying the traditional barriers to a diverse work force, but also by highlighting real-world examples of law enforcement agencies that have effectively implemented smart policies in this area,” said Deputy Attorney General Sally Q. Yates.
However, the report – which is available online at https://www.justice.gov/policediversity – also showed that while hiring “reliance on certain additional selection criteria and screening processes that disproportionately impact individuals from underrepresented communities can also inhibit agencies’ efforts to increase the diversity of their workforces.”
The report from the DOJ and EEOC – the federal agency that enforces federal employment discrimination laws – cited a New York Times analysis of data collected by the Federal government found that in “hundreds of police departments across the country, the proportion of whites on the force is more than 30 percentage points higher than in the communities they serve.”
The report found: Many of the selection devices used to screen applicants, including physical ability and cognitive tests examinations and background checks, have been shown to have an unwarranted disproportionate impact on underrepresented populations. The length, complexity, and costs associated with the hiring process can also serve as a deterrent.
The report also revealed: Researchers and practitioners have also highlighted that the use of criminal background checks, which are a regular part of the screening process for many agencies, is likely to disproportionately impact racial minority applicants since, for a variety of reasons, individuals from those communities are more likely to have contact with the criminal justice system.
While law enforcement agencies are undeniably justified in carefully vetting and investigating potential hires, excluding applicants regardless of the nature of the underlying offense, or how much time has passed since an offense occurred, or without any consideration of whether the candidate has changed in the intervening period, can be a significant – and unwarranted – barrier.
The report also focused on federal enforcement of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that prohibits employers from discriminating against individuals on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, or religion. The report noted law enforcement often uses “extensive background checks as part of their selection processes, including information relating to criminal history.”
However, use of criminal background checks can “violate either the intentional or disparate impact provisions of Title VII” and “employers should consider the nature of the crime, the time elapsed, and the nature of the job.” Also, using credit history checks as an employment screen can be “questioned as discriminatory employment barriers to women and racial minority applicants.”
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