Police departments across the nation – including Charlotte – have taken a harder look at their diversity in the wake of the shooting of an unarmed black man by a white officer in Ferguson, Mo.
In Ferguson, where Michael Brown, 18, was shot by officer Darren Wilson on Aug. 9, 67 percent of residents are black. But on the 53-officer police force, all but three officers are white.
Although police statistics show the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department has become more diverse in recent years, the department does not reflect the racial makeup of Charlotte.
Fifty percent of the people who live in Charlotte are white, according to the latest census data; 35 percent are black and 13.1 percent are Hispanic. Although CMPD also polices unincorporated parts of Mecklenburg County, the racial breakdown for those communities wasn’t available.
At CMPD, 75.88 percent of officers are white, 17.38 percent are black and 3.79 percent are Hispanic.
Such disparities are common in police departments across the United States. An analysis by The Washington Post showed that three-fourths of cities and towns on which the Census Bureau has collected data have a police presence that is disproportionately white.
“I hope and pray that one day in America our police officers will reflect our communities,” said John Barnett, a Charlotte-area civil rights activist and the founder of True Healing Under God Ministries, known as T.H.U.G., which is in Ferguson this week protesting Brown’s shooting. “It would mean a lot more empathy, and there would be a lot less people being Tased.”
CMPD Chief Rodney Monroe, who became the department’s first black chief in 2008, said making the department more diverse has been one of his priorities since he was hired.
The department is diversifying at “a slow creep,” he said. In 2008, 79.68 percent of officers were white and 15.61 percent were black, only a few percentage points different than now. Hispanics accounted for less than 4 percent of officers during that period.
Other minority groups make up the remainder of the department.
Monroe said police departments across the nation have problems with diversity. His department has targeted minority officers, going to historically black colleges and universities to recruit criminal-justice majors.
“We have to be deliberate in targeting minorities,” Monroe said. “Now our strategy is focusing on an obligation – what they can do to help their community. How do we get away from the stigma of, ‘I don’t want to associate with the police.’ ”
All CMPD officers are required to take classes on dealing with diverse populations. An Observer analysis of police training practices showed CMPD officers go through a total of 42 hours of training that is in some way related to diversity. That’s more than many other police departments in North Carolina and elsewhere in the South.
CMPD training and diversity was scrutinized last year after Jonathan Ferrell was shot by Officer Randall Kerrick following a car wreck in eastern Mecklenburg County. Ferrell was black and Kerrick is white, and the incident quickly took on racial overtones.
Police charged Kerrick with voluntary manslaughter. He will go on trial next year. Civil rights leaders launched several protests, but there was no violence reported at any of the events.
Local activist Jibril Hough, who took part in those protests, said the charges against Kerrick forestalled widespread protests, but that the city’s police department still needs to be make progress.
“Charlotte has a ways to go to fully represent the community,” Hough said. “There’s no reason for us to be comfortable here … we’re not that far from being a Ferguson. Mike Brown was shot six times; Jonathan Ferrell was shot 10.”