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Police departments working to close diversity gaps

Posted: 9:41 PM, Jul 19, 2016
Updated: 2016-07-20 17:21:19-04

LAKEWOOD, Colo. -- Ongoing tensions between police and minority communities have sparked questions about how well police departments mirror the make-up of the cities they police.

We found, in many metro-Denver communities, there are protocols in place for department diversity.

Still, the latest comprehensive government studies show the percentage of white officers, and staff, in dozens of departments nationwide is more than 30 percent higher than the populations of the communities they serve.

Experts say that creates an image problem, especially with racial strife at a breaking point.

The Denver Police Department, for example, operates under a consent decree and constantly works to close the race gap .

"It helps to develop trust between the officers and the public,” said Sgt. Bryan O'Neill, vice president of the Denver Police Protective Association. O’Neill says Denver meets most racial benchmarks.

“I do believe that it is very important. And I do believe that Denver does a fantastic job," he said.

A group called,  Governing.com analyzed police personnel data for 269 departments serving as primary local law enforcement agencies for areas with populations exceeding 100,000. Most were city departments, although some county departments and metropolitan area agencies were also included. Data was obtained from the 2013 Law Enforcement Management and Administrative Statistics (LEMAS) survey conducted by the Bureau of Justice Statistics. 

According to the analysis, the city of Denver's population is 52 percent white, while the Denver Police Department is 68 percent white.

The city of Aurora's total population is 47 percent white, while the police department is 86 percent white.

The city of Lakewood is 71 percent white, while the Lakewood PD is 88 percent white.

The city of Aurora told Denver7 in a statement that the Governing.com data does not align with the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey data.

Aurora says according to its data, the white population percentage in Aurora was 63.9 percent in 2014.

"That is a vastly different number than the 47 percent cited on Governing.com’s website," said Julie Patterson, senior public information officer for Aurora.

“It’s extremely important to us at the Lakewood Police Department that the demographics of our city are represented within our department," said spokesman Steve Davis.

Davis says recruitment efforts often focus on diversity, and not just racial diversity.

"We recently had our recruitment team set-up their entire static display at Denver's Pride festival. We welcome anyone. We need you," Davis said.

Experts say diversity on police forces increases a department's credibility and can lead to fewer violent conflicts.

"We recognize the fact that we have African-American communities, Hispanic communities, Asian communities,” Davis said. “And we attend community events all over the place and set-up our recruiting tent."