One large debate circling around the shooting death of a black teenager, by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri focuses on the racial makeup of police forces. The Waco Police Department and community members are trying to ensure the force mirrors the city’s diverse population.
2010 US Census data shows that 29.6 percent of Waco’s population is Hispanic or Latino, 21.5 percent is African American and a little over 45.8 percent is white.
Meanwhile, at Waco PD, 80 percent of the police force is white. Out of 233 officers, 20 are black, 27 are Hispanic, and 186 are white.
Sergeant Patrick Swanton with the Waco Police Dept. realizes these numbers are low. He says Police Chief Brent Stroman has been aggressive in efforts to try and recruit more black and Hispanic officers onto the Waco police force.
"We are doing specific things to pull those minority numbers up. Such as recruiting through the African-American community," Swanton said. "We’re trying to get the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce to promote Waco PD as a place to be.”
Swanton says the department also relies on the help of the community to recruit.
"If they want that to happen, help us make it happen and we’re absolutely willing to work those numbers and get them up but we need some assistance in doing that to get that well-rounded, qualified person who would make a great officer," Swanton said.
Jo Welter with Waco’s Community Race Relations Coalition says the Waco Police Department isn’t diverse enough. She says having a more diverse police force would bring more perspective and objectivity to the department.
“People of color would be more able to understand what civilians of color go through in daily life," Welter said.
She says officers of color or female officers could potentially identify with moments where they had been discriminated. And that would bring more understanding, sympathy and less stereotyping in the way areas are policed.
“Less concentrating on policing maybe areas where people of color frequent more than say white areas of town because they think there’s more crime there," Welter said. "There’s so much assuming going on and not thinking based on facts.”
Welter says Chief Stroman has been very supportive of CRRC’s efforts to educate the police department on racism and diversity.
"The people really at the top of the police department is always our focus. Because the more objective information people have the better off we feel it is for everybody," Welter said.
The CRRC sponsored Chief Stroman last year for an annual workshop they host in Waco focused on undoing racism. They plan to host other officers in the force for that workshop this year. Meanwhile, Sergeant Swanton says Waco PD will continue their recruiting process but overall their main focus is getting the best qualified and educated applicants, regardless of race or gender.