During the last quarter of the twentieth century, some noteworthy organizational changes in American police organizations occurred, and their influences were significant for the direction of American policing in the twenty-first century. Two significant changes in particular deserve special mention (Zhao, Herbst, and Lovrich 2001). First, the presence of minorities and women in policing is associated with the broad goal of social equity in a democratic society. The real change took place with the passage of the Equal Employment Opportunity Act of 1972, an amendment to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Steel and Lovrich 1987). For example, the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) and the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration (LEAA) conducted a survey in 1973 and found that minorities accounted for about 4% of police employment in the nation. Since then, the representation of minorities in the public service sector has received much attention in the media and from government officials. In addition, the employment of women in policing highlights the gendered nature of public services where occupational segregation and exclusively male workforces in public safety and criminal justice have been the established tradition (Brown and Pechman 1987). The change toward gender equity may be as difficult as racial equity in police agencies. Accommodation of gender equity is complicated by the need for the occasional use of force required in the line of duty, which is believed to require an emphasis on the physical strength of officers and, as a consequence, has become an important component in police selection (Morash and Haarr 1995).

A second significant change affecting the demographics of policing concerns the implementation of community policing, emphasizing elements of crime prevention, victim assistance, and police partnership in the community. All of these initiatives and associated activities reflect the need for representatives of the police to engage in collaborative (versus enforcement) activities. This is an area of work in which gender and racial differences can be a decidedly positive factor in policing. In some situations female officers are preferable to males for tasks that require empathy and sensitivity rather than a credible threat of use of physical force (Martin 1993). Walker (1985) has pointed out that virtually every major national report on the police in the post-World War II period has explicitly recommended hiring more minorities and women in policing for these specific reasons.

Data Sources

Two primary data sources offer information on minority and female employment in policing. Each has its merits and shortcomings. The first source is Police Employee Data (LEOKA), which is part of the annual Uniform Crime Reports (UCR) published by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. In these data there are questions about the number of male and female sworn officers in each department. Because the UCR includes more than seventeen thousand reporting agencies, researchers can obtain a global picture about the extent of female employment in law enforcement including employment in municipal, township, and special-purpose police agencies (for example, school district and port authority police) as well as sheriff’s offices. Another advantage of the employee data found in the UCR is that they are published annually. Therefore, researchers can examine change over a period of time. However, a major disadvantage is that although there is a breakdown of the number of male and female officers, no racial or ethnic breakdowns are provided.

The second source of information on police employment is the Law Enforcement Management and Administrative Statistics (LEMAS), published periodically by the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS). About every three years throughout the 1990s, BJS conducted surveys of large police agencies (those hiring more than one hundred sworn officers). In the 1990 LEMAS survey, 387 municipal police departments fit this definition. The number increased to 495 in the 2000 LEMAS survey. In each LEMAS data series (1990, 1993, 1997, and 2000) information on gender and racial breakdowns is available. For example, the total number of female officers is broken down by racial/ethnic categories to show the numbers of female officers who identify themselves as white, Hispanic, black/African American, Asian/ Pacific Islander, and other races/ethnicities. This detailed information on race and gender is the primary advantage of LEMAS data. A major drawback of LEMAS data concerns the sporadic timing of the survey. It seems that the survey is administered at the convenience of the BJS. Since the 2000 LEMAS survey, for example, there has been no additional data posted by the Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research (ICPSR) for five years. Therefore, only LEMAS data from the 1990s is currently available to researchers. However, both LEOKA and LEMAS data for past surveys are available on the ICPSR website and can be easily downloaded.

Current Status of Change in Demographics in Policing

How much did the demographics of large police agencies change during the 1990s? Table 1 compares the percentage changes in three racial and ethnical groups for both male and female officers as reported in the first (1990) and, as of this writing, most recent (2000) LEMAS surveys of large police departments.

Table 1 Percentage of Racial and Ethnical Groups in Large Police Agencies




% Change

White male officers




African American male officers




Hispanic male officers




White female officers




African American female officers




Hispanic female officers




Note: Number of police agencies surveyed = 387 in 1990 and 495 in 2000.

The base numbers are small, so that the changes appear to have great magnitude, whereas in reality they represent very small overall increases.

The percentages of each category listed Table 1 clearly show that some significant changes took place during the 1990s. First, the percentage of white male officers declined from 78.64% in 1990 to 73.05% in 2000, a drop of 7.11%. In comparison, all other racial and ethnical groups appeared to have sizable gains during the same period. This is particularly true for the increase in the proportion of Hispanic officers. There were 39.7% and 80% increases in the number of Hispanic male officers and Hispanic female officers, respectively. Overall, the change in the 1990s closely resembled the 1970s and 1980s regarding an increase in the representation of minority and female officers in the police force. It is important to note that the increase in representation varied by racial and ethnical groups during the 1990s. In the meantime, the UCR data show that female officers employed in cities with populations of more than twenty-five thousand in 1990 (1,953 cities) accounted for 7.12% of all sworn officers. In 2002 UCR data on police employment, female officers made up 9.0% of sworn officers in cities with a population of more than twenty-five thousand (2,307 cities), a 26.4% increase in twelve years.

Factors Associated with Hiring Minority and Female Officers

A considerable body of literature has accumulated since the 1980s regarding the hiring of minority and female officers in U.S. law enforcement agencies (see, for example, Zhao, He, and Lovrich 2005; Zhao, Herbst, and Lovrich 2001; Ramirez 1997; Felkenes, Peretz, and Schroedel 1993; Felkenes and Schroedel 1993; Martin 1991; Zhao and Lovrich 1998; Potts 1983; Poulos and Doerner 1996; Warner et al. 1989; Lewis 1989; Steel and Lovrich 1987).

Four primary factors have been identified in the empirical study on minorities and women in policing (see Walker 1985). The research revealed factors that are consistently significant with respect to the hiring of minority and female officers. The first factor concerns minority representation in the population. This explanation is simple and straightforward: The increase in minority officers is positively associated with increases in minority populations in cities. The representation of minority populations is the most significant predictor of hiring minority police officers. For example, the presence of a large African American population is the most significant predictor of the hiring of African American officers, whereas a large Hispanic population is correlated with the employment of Hispanic officers (Zhao, He, and Lovrich 2005; Zhao, Herbst, and Lovrich 2001; Zhao and Lovrich 1998; Martin 1991).

The next factor is related to city size. In particular, several studies found that city size is a significant predictor of the rate of employment of female officers after controlling for other city demographics such as percentage of young population, minority population, and single-mother households (see, for example, Zhao, Herbst, and Lovrich 2001). The LEOKA data on workforce composition in the 2002 UCR, for example, indicated that the percentage of female officers relative to males is higher in larger cities as compared to smaller ones.

The third factor is related to the unique political environment in each city. Elected public officials are inclined to represent the interests of the people who elect them to office. Following this line of thinking, there is a positive relationship between the presence of a black mayor, for example, and the likelihood of the provision of noteworthy collective benefits to African Americans. Because top municipal administrators have considerable discretionary power in determining the outcome of personnel policies in a local police agency, a minority mayor may advocate for additional hiring of minority officers. Furthermore, female council members and mayors are also highlighted in previous studies as possible predictors of increases in the number of female police officers. (Note, however, that the variables that attempt to measure local political influence such as the leadership of a minority mayor or the percentage of female council members have produced mixed findings.)

The final significant predictor is the presence of an affirmative action program. The passage of the Equal Employment Opportunity Act of 1972 made a vast number of federal, state, and local agencies subject to requirements for ”good faith effort” affirmative action programs as defined by the federal courts and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), pursuant to the legislative intent of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. A key aspect of affirmative action programs is their focus on a set of specific goals and timetables keyed to the pools of qualified applicants. These programs frequently feature specific goals in numerical terms with respect to the hiring of minority and female candidates, particularly when reflecting a federal court mandate issued on a substantiated claim of historical underrep-resentation or manifesting discriminatory personnel practices. The availability of an affirmative action program in a police department is a significant determinant of the hiring of female and minority officers (Zhao, He, and Lovrich 2005; Zhao, Herbst, and Lovrich 2001; Martin 1991; Steel and Lovrich 1989).

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