(Photo: Kurt Strazdins/Landov)
Washington, D.C., is one of the few predominantly Black major cities left in America, so it makes sense that the police force is predominantly Black as well. However, it might not be so obvious that there are tremendous benefits to that sort of racial makeup. According to a new piece from the Washington City Paper called “The Thin Black Line," that most of D.C.’s cops are African-American has a major asset to what police are trying to get accomplished, and it could serve as a lesson to police forces around the country.
In 2010, 58 percent of Washington’s cops were Black, while only 28 percent were white. “Why does that matter?” asks City Paper. “Because, it turns out, having a police force that looks like the citizens they patrol means better relations with the community. Bucking expectations of a district once set ablaze by racial tension, Black Washingtonians actually like their cops more than Black residents of some other cities.”
It might seem obvious that residents, especially minority ones with grudges against law enforcement, will take more kindly to officers that look like them. And there’s actually a lot of hard data to support that idea.
What D.C. is doing is called “community-oriented policing,” and it’s been around for a couple decades now. The community-oriented philosophy holds that police should attempt to work together with citizens in order to fully understand and protect cities. To do so, police should be able to understand the ins and outs of the communities they’re watching over, and so it makes sense to hire police who look like the citizens of D.C. As one Black detective said to City Paper: “The experience they bring to a situation is important.”
Though things are rosy for now, looking forward, that may not be the case. The latest census data showed that Washington, D.C.’s Black population, once one of the largest in the nation per capita, has shrunk drastically over the past decade. Experts predict that by 2020, the Chocolate City could be a majority white locale if the white influx and Black exodus continues. The Latino population is also increasing. If that’s the case, and if the goal of the D.C. police force is to mirror the community, there’s going to have to be some major shakeups in the coming years.
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