Lancaster city police Sgt. Calvin Duncan called for integrated police forces, telling a crowd at an event in New York City that “if police officers are to continue this drive for professionalism, they must then be prepared to serve all our citizens equally.”
The year? 1968.
Duncan, a Greenville, North Carolina, native, was hired as the Lancaster city department’s first community relations officer in 1951. In 1972, he made history by becoming the department’s first Black captain.
In a 1976 newspaper interview, Duncan said his career on the force spanned a tumultuous time in American race relations.
“We had a lot of racial hang-ups when I came on,” he said. “I think we’ve gotten over a lot of those. I know we have.”
Fast forward more than four decades, as protesters across the United States and in Lancaster demand accountability and transparency from police departments. One issue has surfaced repeatedly — diversity in policing.
A lack of diversity in police departments, activists argue, feeds the distrust between officers and the communities they serve. Echoing Duncan’s message, activists say a police department should reflect the community it serves — both in gender and race.
Local police say they hire the most qualified and dedicated applicants who make it through the recruitment process. Criminal justice and policing experts say the recruitment process itself needs to change.
LNP | LancasterOnline sought demographic information on Lancaster County’s police officers. Fourteen departments, including state police Troop J, provided data.
An analysis of those departments shows, on average, 94% of police officers identify as white, 2.06% Hispanic, 2.8% Black and 0.69% as Asian.
Overall, the sample’s numbers for racial and ethnic diversity skew from the overall county demographics, especially when it comes to female representation.
Of Lancaster’s 545,724 residents, according to the 2019 census estimates, 81% identified as white alone, not Hispanic or Latino, 11% identified as Hispanic, 5.2% identified as Black and 2.5% identified as Asian.
Women make up about 51% of the population, but only make up 9.05% of surveyed police departments.
Police chiefs whose departments reported a force of either 100% white or 100% male officers said their numbers in no way reflect their efforts to diversify, but highlight the challenges of hiring new, especially diverse, officers.
“It’s not for a lack of trying,” said Elizabethtown police Chief Edward Cunningham. All of the department’s 15 officers are white; two are female.
“I spent 23 years in the city of Pittsburgh, and I worked with every race and nationality,” Cunningham said. “When we decided to hire (in Elizabethtown), I made an effort to hire minority candidates.”
‘A self-perpetuating cycle’
When Cunningham became the Elizabethtown chief in January 2018, he immediately noticed the lack of diversity, he said.
“I put an ad in La Voz (a Spanish-language publication from LNP Media Group), I put an ad in the New Pittsburgh Courier (a Black newspaper). … I also advertised at all five of the major police departments in the state,” Cunningham said. (La Voz became a digital-only publication in January 2019.)
However, when he reviewed submissions, one out of 17 applicants identified as “mixed race,” 15 were Caucasian men and one was a woman, he said. The female candidate dropped out of the process before Cunningham even met her.
“That right there, that’s a problem,” Cunningham said. “With all of that recruiting, I only got one person. I can only hire from the pool of candidates I have.”
Trying to diversify any institution is a challenge, said John Churchville, a professor of criminal justice and legal studies and program director at Lancaster Bible College.
Churchville, while serving on a committee to recruit more minority attorneys to the county, noticed he was the only Black attorney in the Lancaster Bar Association.
“We had a diversity committee, where we actually tried to figure out a way to recruit more Black attorneys to Lancaster and reached out to other firms,” Churchville said. “It did not work.”
The attorneys would live in Lancaster for about a year, look around and realize “there’s nobody here that looks like me,” and leave for more diverse cities, Churchville said.
“It’s a self-perpetuating cycle,” Churchville said. “The only way to increase diversity is to start with diversity, and then that attracts other people. But we’ve never been able to get that critical mass.”
In Lancaster city, officials have been working for several years on increasing diversity.
After a video of a police officer using a Taser on an unarmed Black man went viral in 2018, city leadership took steps to regain community trust. The city revamped the department’s use-of-force policy, started working on improving community-police relations and enlisted the Lancaster branch of the NAACP to help recruit for police jobs.
Blanding Watson, president of the Lancaster NAACP branch, said the organization is looking to partner with other county police departments on the pilot program already in place with the city.
The city has made a concerted effort to broaden the pool of test takers, said Jess King, the mayor’s chief of staff. For instance, the city has implemented additional civil service exam points for being bilingual, participating in the police cadet program or being a city resident, said Patrick Hopkins, Lancaster city director of administrative services.
Almost two years after the initiatives, the department’s 134 officers are 88% white and 90% male — in a city that is 38.5% Hispanic, 18.3% Black and 3.6% Asian, and 49.7% female.
Diversifying takes time, Hopkins said, because the existing recruitment process itself is limiting.
If employers can’t find diverse candidates for positions, they should reevaluate their process, said Danitra Sherman, campaigns director with the ACLU of Pennsylvania.
“How are you going to recruit diverse folks from a pool that’s already lacking in diversity?” Sherman asked.
‘Brawn over brains’
The composition of a police department is critical because culture is changed by its members, not policies and procedures, said Laura Goodman, a retired deputy police chief from Minnesota and an international police adviser.
When a department is hiring, it should look for candidates who reflect the community as well as those who are critical thinkers and can problem solve, she said.
The focus on recruits’ physical capabilities is one of the biggest hurdles in hiring, she said.
“There continues to be widespread discrimination in the hiring process,” Goodman said. “Many departments still — in marketing and position descriptions — they are still emphasizing brawn over brains.”
With only about 4% of police work involving violent crimes, departments need to focus on developing officers with different skill sets, like getting into local communities and understanding the cultures represented, as well as de-escalation, she said.
She suggested departments recruit from unconventional backgrounds — such as nursing and social work programs. Once hired, female and minority candidates should be given the same opportunities for advancement and specialization.
“Women in policing in the country are about 12% (of police officers),” Goodman said. “At the higher levels, it drops down to 2.3%.”
Statistically, female officers are 8.5 times less likely to have excessive use of force complaints filed against them, said Frederika Schmitt, associate professor of sociology, criminology, women and gender studies at Millersville University.
Because women are viewed by society as less threatening, when a woman police officer walks into a situation, most calls start with a conversation, Schmidtt said.
“That’s not the guy police officers’ fault; it’s not the woman police officers’ fault or responsibility; that’s just the way our society is socialized,” Schmidtt said. “When a big guy shows up on the scene, just his presence can escalate the scene.”
Importance of training
A 2018 report from the United States Commission on Civil Rights on police use of force and modern policing practices stated that communities are often more likely to view a diverse police force as more legitimate.
However, the commission also stated research is mixed on whether having a racially diverse police force actually translates to a decrease in police use of force, especially against minority communities.
“For instance, Baltimore’s police force is fairly diverse — approximately 42% black, compared with 63% of the general population — but the Justice Department found a long history of unfair policing practices against black residents in the city,” the report stated.
Sherman, with the ACLU, agrees that demographic changes are not enough. Change has to come from officers’ training, she said.
“You can say, ‘Hey, let’s add more Black and brown people,’” she said, “but if you’re putting them in a place, in a system that perpetuates racism and doesn’t address cultures, nothing is going to change."
“More often than not, people are going to conform to the culture when it comes to doing their job,” Sherman said.
Aleah Janette Tyson, an activist and organizer from Lancaster city, said she thinks the discussion on law enforcement’s relationship with the community should focus on training and education of officers, as well as diversification.
“As a Black queer woman, if I started working for the LPD, nothing would be better,” she said via text. “My voice would probably be silenced or trampled on. We still live in a white supremacist society.”
Existing officers need training in Black education, lessons on how weapons and use of force should be a last resort, anti-racism and diversity training, Tyson said.
Police departments nationally have been adding implicit bias training. Sherman, with the ACLU, says that’s not enough to build trust with communities already wary of police.
“It’s really just getting the time to talk to the people — finding the community leader and the community stakeholders and building the relationship with them to find that tie into the community,” she said. “So that both can ask questions, know the intent and not be defensive, and be OK if there’s pushback.”
Sgt. Donald Morant, community outreach sergeant with the Lancaster City Bureau of Police, agrees it is important for officers to have relationships with the communities they serve.
“I was always a firm believer of community policing,” he said. “The residents got to know the officers, and the officers got to know the residents, and a positive relationship between the police and the community. I would love to see us going back to something like that.”