Minority underrepresentation in law enforcement still affects mid-Missouri
COLUMBIA – The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is currently processing a claim of racial discrimination against the Boone County Sheriff’s Department.
Jonathan Houston of Columbia received a letter on March 28th informing him that he was not selected and was given no reason for the rejection.
“I called the office specialist, whom stated they sent me a formal letter, and I asked her why I wasn’t selected. Did they already begin my background investigation? Who did they call? And she said, ‘we’re not at liberty to tell you why we denied you,’” Houston said.
Houston began his application process back in February of this year and took a series of tests including a criminal review, a written test, multiple interviews and a lie detector test.
He claimed he passed all these tests and was even called a “strong candidate” by certain interviewers who congratulated him on his test results.
He was then informed the next step would be a background check and he would meet with a background investigator.
The next information Houston received from the department was the letter informing him he was not chosen to continue the process.
“Now, from my own research, being black and not having many black people passing those tests would make me a strong candidate. So, with there being that gap of information of not telling me, I most likely think that there’s racism,” Houston said.
While the reason Houston was not chosen is unknown, it is clear there is a lack of diversity in law enforcement.
Boone County Sheriff's Department declined to offer numbers on minorities within the department, citing the investigation into Houston's complaint.
In 2015, The EEOC along with other departments released a report looking into the state of law enforcement in regards to minority representation.
The report found local police departments across the nation were 72.8 percent white, 12.2 percent black and 11.6 percent Hispanic.
At the Columbia Police Department, only eight percent of patrol officers are minorities and only four percent are black.
While the percentage of minorities working at police departments has been steadily increasing over the years, it still is not close to being proportional to the population.
Dr. Charles Menifield of the University of Missouri’s Truman School of Public Affairs has done research in the fields of public administration and minority politics. He said there are many factors that could be contributing to this continuing underrepresentation.
“One is, like all jobs, there’s criteria. Unfortunately, when you look at the data African Americans tend to have lower levels of education,” Menifield said.
He said other factors are the number of minorities in a community and negative opinions of law enforcement officers. Menifield said the biggest cause, however, lies within law enforcement agencies.
He said that these agencies tend to have a set way of doing things and it would take a large number of minority perspectives on the inside to even begin to change the way officers handle situations.
“Even if you hire a lot more minorities, unless there’s a critical mass they will probably behave like the dominant party in the department,” Menifield said.
He said the best way to improve law enforcement agencies is for them to work closer with their communities. By engaging with those they serve, officers can help break down barriers and learn more about the community’s issues.
Houston also pointed to this as a problem. He said law enforcement agencies claim a desire to reach out to the community but never seem to act on it.
“A lot of law enforcement agencies talk about outreach, but they don’t do anything. I can understand there may be different reasons why. Maybe some African Americans are resilient, but if you have African American applicants coming in who are eligible and you are disqualifying them you’re not seeking to better the community. Our law enforcement has to match our communities,” Houston said.
Boone County Sheriff’s Department declined to comment on the racial discrimination charge.
Houston says future action will depend on what response he receives from the EEOC.