The public outcry around the shooting in Ferguson, and later many other events such as George Floyd has created what is known as the ‘Ferguson Effect.’ It is evident that the dynamic between the public and the police is rapidly changing, particularly when it comes to community policing and interactions with racial minorities. There are also many unknowns, such as how to address the ongoing issues, ways to improve diversity hiring, and the impacts it will have. This critical review will examine two academic literature articles to determine the theoretical background and findings.
The first article is Will more black cops matter? Officer race and police-involved homicides of black citizens by Nicholson-Crotty et al. (2017). The purpose of this study is to identify whether increased minority representation reduces the incidences of police violence, particularly against black citizens, which has been one of the major national issues due to discrimination. One of the major policy solutions proposed in the aftermath of Ferguson was to increase black representation. That is seemingly a logical solution, but little data is available regarding the effectiveness of such measures. As part of the theoretical background,
Nocholson-Crotty et al. (2017) refer to the Theory of Representative Bureaucracy. There are two types of bureaucratic demographic representation: passive and active. There is an empirical link indicating that passive racial representation and bureaucratic decisions are favorable to that racial group if certain preconditions are met. Essentially, passive representation occurs when a bureaucracy’s demographic characteristics represent that of the population. Active representation is when bureaucrats act purposefully on behalf of their group in the general population, such as black officers potentially promoting restraint against black citizens in the police force. Applying this theory indicates that there may be a possible link between the demographic composition of the police force and decreased police violence, but only once there are enough minorities as a total and in leadership that they are safe and influential enough to represent the interests of the population of the same race.
Nocholson-Crotty et al. (2017), in their literature, examine some examples of Representative Bureaucracy. One study suggests that black citizens perceive police stops as more legitimate if a black officer is present, while another indicated that racial representation in elected law enforcement positions decreases racial bias in arrests. At the same time, there is mixed evidence suggesting that black representation does not decrease violence and may actually increase racial profiling, as these officers are attempting to demonstrate that they are not favoring any racial group. Furthermore, police organizations are effective at socializing their employees to the general values and norms and enforcing compliance, meaning that the race of the officer does not play such a major role, but rather it is the organizational aspects such as culture, training, and policies, both direct and indirect regarding the approach to minorities in police-citizen interactions. These conclusions were partially met by the direct findings of the empirical study of Nocholson-Crotty et al. (2017), who determined that there is no straightforward linear relationship between minority representation and outcomes for black citizens. However, there is an inflection point where black officers are more likely to take on an advocacy role and less likely to discriminate based on the general policing culture and rules.
The second article is A tale of force: Examining policy proposals to address police violence by Preito-Hodge & Tomaskovic-Devey (2021). The purpose of the study is through the lens of organizational and relational approaches to determine the empirical effectiveness of policy recommendations to increase officer diversity, raise educational requirements, and implement community policing practices. This comes in light of various high-profile public incidents, including the deaths of George Floyd and Breanna Taylor, despite drastically different circumstances, who died as a result of unwarranted and excessive police violence against black citizens.
Preito-Hodge & Tomaskovic-Devey (2021) rely on the theoretical framework of organizational practices and culture. It states that people act based on the organizational relationships where they are working. Organizations have social and race structures with schemas that interact with organizational resources. In the context of police violence, it can be attributed to the prominent ‘blue’ cultures that have been embedded for decades into the law enforcement practices and approaches to policing, often supported by legislation at the state and local levels. The police is known for it stoic stance of being self-leading and self-sufficient, often disregarding outside criticism. For years, it has also promoted a warrior-like culture of strength, dominance, and discipline. Therefore, when encountering potentially hostile citizens, they view it as an attack, enacting a sense of protection of their own and use of power against insubordinate individuals. Therefore, this extends beyond racial or gendered identities, as even black and female officers, if integrated into a highly militaristic and dominant department, will begin to adapt to such behavior and potentially express it themselves.
Taking this theoretical background into account, it is evident that a reworking of the organizational culture is required. Preito-Hodge & Tomaskovic-Devey (2021) examined the policy proposals described earlier and found conclusive evidence. They found that raising educational requirements may be viable, as law enforcement organizations with more highly educated officers consistently demonstrate less violence towards citizens. Importantly, they found that regardless of education or background, organizations that simply emphasized diversity hiring with more black and female officers did not see a statistically significant reduction in police violence. Finally, police organizations that adopted community policing techniques and formed relationships rather than proactive policing saw reduced violence. In conclusion, policies that addressed comprehensive police organization practices and culture (more education generally means a different mentality and awareness among officers) were effective, but those that only superficially attempted to resolve the issue were unsuccessful.
The articles are very similar in their premise and purposes, as they seek to determine the empirical evidence behind the representation of black minorities on the force and the impact it may have on police violence. Their theoretical background approaches differ but remain similar in that both emphasize collective representation and organizational influences. It can be argued that representative bureaucracy is a subset of organizational culture. The findings are similar as well, identifying that racial demographics do not play a role in reducing police violence and emphasizing that a much more comprehensive organizational approach is necessary, shifting the culture and practices of policing rather than superficial quotas. The articles significantly advance the work in law enforcement as they provide evidence of the key need for policy change and approaches in the attempts to find solutions to the race-police social issue. Without the evidence-based indicators provided in these articles, it would be less clear on the direction that needs to be considered.
The topic examined in these articles does emphasize the need for leadership training. As mentioned by both Nocholson-Crotty et al. (2017) and Preito-Hodge & Tomaskovic-Devey (2021), it is the organizational leadership that influences culture and policies within police departments, and training can provide the competencies necessary to achieve major shifts. Police organizations are very hierarchical organizations, with leadership being often respected and venerated due to authority, meaning that these leaders, with proper training, can manage change and make a material difference (Smith, 2019). Overall, this review suggests once again that true change starts from within, as the Bible says, “For as he thinks in his heart, so is he” (Proverbs 23:7). Police organizations need to change the way they ‘think,’ their beliefs and culture, which will then reflect on their actions.
Events such as Ferguson undoubtedly began a chain reaction of public demand and social pressures on law enforcement to change. The issue continues to stand as a prominent divisive point, as a wide range of solutions has been proposed to reduce the amount of police violence and discriminatory behaviors towards black citizens. This paper compared literature that examined one of the most common policy proposals in these cases of police violence against minorities – improving the demographic representation of black officers to reduce instances of police violence and benefit community policing. Unfortunately, both authors found a lack of direct evidence suggesting that the number of black officers will reduce the use of force. That does not mean that representative bureaucracy should not be applied, particularly to leadership and community policing. It indicates that there are other policy measures that should be considered as a means of reducing violence in the long term. Racial representation matters from a perception and community standpoint, not direct performance duties as performance levels.
Nicholson-Crotty, S., Nicholson-Crotty, J., & Fernandez, S. (2017). Will more black cops matter? Officer race and police-involved homicides of black citizens. Public Administration Review, 77(2), 206–216. Web.
Preito-Hodge, K., & Tomaskovic-Devey, D. (2021). A tale of force: Examining policy proposals to address police violence. Social Currents, 8(5), 403–423. Web.
Smith, R. (2019). The “Police Change Manager”: Exploring a new leadership paradigm for policing. International Journal of Police Science & Management, 21(3), 156–167. Web.