This post originally appeared on RI Future.
A lot of American cities have police departments that don’t proportionally represent the racial mix of residents. And Providence is one of the worst.
According to data provided by the office of the Public Safety Commissioner, the 444-officer Providence Police Department is 76.3 percent White, 11.7 percent Hispanic, 9.0 percent Black, 2.7 percent Asian or Pacific Islander, and 0.2 percent American Indian. According to the 2010 U.S. Census, the city as a whole is 37.8 percent White, 38.3 percent Hispanic, 16.1 percent Black, 6.5 percent Asian or Pacific Islander, and 1.4 percent American Indian.
That means the white portion of the PPD is 38.6 percentage points overrepresentative of the city as a whole, while the Hispanic portion is 26.5 percentage points underrepresentative, the black portion is 7.1 points underrepresentative, the Asian/P.I. portion is 3.8 points underrepresentative, and the American Indian portion is 1.2 points underrepresentative.
These numbers seem vaguely interesting without context, but in the context of other cities, they’re far more troublesome.
On October 1, data journalism blog FiveThirtyEight.com published an analysis of the 75 largest municipal police forces in the country. Providence has approximately the 90th-most officers in the country, so was not included in that analysis. The main thrust of that analysis was examining the effectiveness of residency requirements (tldr?: They actually correlate with worse representativeness). However, there is an excellent visualization putting all 75 departments side by side, ranked in order of how racially misrepresentative they are of their cities. I highly recommend checking it out.
So Providence wasn’t included in that analysis, and there are about 15 other departments that also weren’t included and have bigger departments than we do. But how do we compare to the 75 cities included in the analysis?
Only three of the cities FiveThirtyEight looked at have police departments worse at representing their communities than Providence. So that’s a problem.
In a statement, Providence Public Safety Commissioner Steven Paré said, “Recruiting a diverse workforce is always a priority. We hired two recruit classes for the PFD and one recruit class for the PPD. It was one of the most diverse classes we’ve had in our history. Our goal is to mirror the community we serve. The challenge is to reach out to the available workforce in the region and recruit the best candidates.”
The new class of 53 police officers was the most diverse in 20 years, with 9 Hispanic recruits and 13 other minorities. But the class itself overrepresented white Providence by 20%, and barely budged the underrepresentation of Latinos.
When it comes to recruiting new and diverse officers, Paré said he’s “battl[ing] the perception that you need to have a connection to become a police officer,” he said. “It exists in the profession.” He acknowledged the fire department “can do a better job…recruiting more women. It is always difficult to get women interested in the fire services because of the physical demands that is required.” (What, because women have trouble doing physical work? *facepalm*)
Importantly, Paré welcomes ideas from the community. “We have invited community stakeholders to become part of the process for their input, ideas and recommendations to improve how we hire police and fire,” he said. “They have been critical partners in these last 3 training academies.”
There’s racial misrepresentation to address in Providence Public Safety, but with willing leadership and the active participation of community groups, maybe we can solve the problem together.