Our friends in the media can be as predictable as the tides. Today, the Boston Globe, apropos l’affaire Gates, examines “diversity” in Massachusetts’s ten largest police forces and finds (who’d have thought it?) there is not enough. While those ten departments have hired 168 minority officers since late 2007, the number of minority supervisors has remained “stagnant,” and this stagnation supposedly explains why Henry Louis Gates Jr. suffered so at the hands of the Cambridge Police Department.
Last week, well-known Harvard scholar Henry Louis “Skip” Gates Jr. said he was the victim of racism by a Cambridge police officer who responded to his house for a reported break-in. The incident drew criticism of the department by President Obama, and some black officers are pointing to the case as an example that more diversity is needed in law enforcement.
“If I had responded to the call, I would have immediately recognized Skip,” said Boston Police Sergeant Paul Joseph, who is a member of the legal committee of the Massachusetts Association of Minority Law Enforcement Officers, an organization that advocates on behalf of minority officers. “The fact that a white officer, who patrols Cambridge for a living, didn’t recognize this national celebrity in front of him, tells you where we are in terms of cultural diversity.”
One can’t help but wonder if Sergeant Joseph would also recognize Harvey Mansfield if called to his home.
Offering a dissenting opinion is Sergeant James Machado, presumably (though not necessarily) a minority himself, of the Fall River Police Department. Machado says that though he supports diversity, “it shouldn’t be at the expense of the best and brightest; there shouldn’t be a quota. I think the community is best served when the best and brightest officers are in those positions.” Perhaps Sergeant Machado, who apparently hasn’t kept up with the memos from the Diversity Squad, can look forward to one of those “teachable moments” over a beer at the White House.
The Globe article makes clear the peril in seeking diversity by lowering the bar for applicants while maintaining standards for advancement. How reflective of a community is its police department (or, as in the New Haven case, its fire department) expected to be, and at what point is that department allowed to be a meritocracy? In Massachusetts, only 51 percent of black males graduated from high school with their cohort in the 2005–2006 school year, compared with 77 percent of whites. If police departments in that state wish to maintain a high-school diploma as a minimum criterion for applicants — an eminently reasonable desire — then the available diversity pool is accordingly diminished. Many police departments insist on college degrees for officers rising to supervisory positions, thus shrinking the pool even further.
There is a price to be paid for all this diversity; the only question is who will pay it.
– Jack Dunphy is an officer in the Los Angeles Police Department. “Jack Dunphy” is the author’s nom de cyber. The opinions expressed are his own and almost certainly do not reflect those of the LAPD management.