Social Explorer uses cookies to allow us to better understand how the site is used and to improve your experience. By continuing to use this site, you consent to this policy. About cookies

New York Times/Social Explorer Analysis Finds Police Departments Became Whiter Over Decade

FRIDAY, SEP 25, 2020

The United States is becoming more diverse; its law enforcement agencies, not as much. A Social Explorer analysis conducted for the New York Times found that more than two-thirds of local police departments became whiter than their communities between 2007 and 2016. 

The analysis, part of Social Explorer’s commitment to exploring racial justice issues in the United States with its extensive library of demographic data, found many of the nation’s largest metropolitan police forces – including New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, and Dallas – narrowed the racial gap between their officers and their communities.


Explore our LEMAS data in the BLM Protests dataset. Click here to explore further.

Progress, however, was extremely uneven. Police forces in Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington, D.C., became whiter than their communities. The analysis of Bureau of Justice Statistics data found 332 of 467 local police departments with more than 100 officers became whiter over the decade. As part of its commitment, Social Explorer is making the full, mapped results of the analysis available here.

The racial gap between police departments and their communities has an enormous impact on race relations in the United States. Racial unrest and riots in the wake of police killings of Black people have occurred in cities like New York; Ferguson, Mo.; Minneapolis; and Kenosha, Wisc. 

“Questions about excessive policing of minority areas throughout the United States are multiplying,” said Andrew Beveridge, co-founder of Social Explorer. “If cops don’t represent your own community, suspicions naturally arise.”

The shootings of Black people spawned the creation of the Black Lives Matter movement in 2013 after a Florida man was acquitted of shooting Trayvon Martin. More recently, riots have erupted in Minneapolis and Kenosha after Black men were killed by police. The National Guard was summoned this week to deal with unrest in Louisville, Ky., after only one of the city’s policemen who gunned down an innocent Black woman in her own home during a botched raid was indicted for endangering the dead woman’s neighbors.

Advocates of the Black Lives Matter movement have argued that more representative police forces would lead to fewer fatal shootings. The share of Black officers who quit police forces during the decade, however, has outpaced the number of Black officers hired during the same period. A more diverse police force, however, isn’t necessarily a panacea. The Chicago Police Department, which has 12,000 members, became much more diverse between 2007 and 2016. The Department of Justice, however, released a report in January 2017 that said the use of excessive force by its officers was especially targeted at Black and Hispanic residents.

Diversity at the top also lagged in many U.S. cities. Among cities with more than 250,000 people, two-thirds of police chiefs were white. That figure rose to 92 percent in cities with fewer than 10,000 residents. Nationwide, 90 percent of police chiefs; 82 percent of supervisors; and 72 percent of officers are white. The U.S. population is about 60 percent white.

“We are working to make it easier for users throughout the United States to understand how police operate in many communities,” said Beveridge, who provided expert testimony in Floyd v. City of New York, a 2013 landmark case addressing stop-and-frisk policing. “Unfortunately, data on policing focuses mostly on reported crimes and arrests, and not on other aspects of policing. By adding the demography of the community – which is not found in the federal data — plainly many new insights can be found.” 

Beveridge said Social Explorer will be providing data for all police departments over the next week. The new data will include data for county sheriff’s departments that were sampled in the recently released figures.

Social Explorer was created by co-founders Beveridge and Ahmed Lacevic in 1999, with the goal of developing a website that democratizes information by providing users with demographic data that can be easily visualized. It’s been honored with numerous awards and has expanded its portfolio to include visualizations of the COVID-19 pandemic, U.S. election data, and demographic data from Canada, the United Kingdom, Ireland, and the European Union.

For more information about how to subscribe to Social Explorer, contact us here.

Author: Frank Bass

Data Insights are Waiting to be Uncovered
Get started

Already using Social Explorer? Log in.