Mid-Missouri police demographics show women underrepresented
COLUMBIA - Recent events in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson triggered a lot of national criticism over the racial demographics of police departments.
In Columbia however, there isn't a huge discrepancy between the number of minority residents and the number of minorities working in the police department.
Minorities make up about 22 percent of Columbia residents and 10 percent of the Columbia Police Department. Lt. Geoff Jones said that number is high compared to the rest of the country.
Where Columbia does see a demographic discrepancy is in gender.
Officer Amanda Rhodes hopes to change that. "I think women in particular need strong role-models to look at, and I want to be a strong role model," Rhodes said.
Rhodes has wanted to be a police officer her whole life and recently graduated from the University of Missouri extension's Law Enforcement Training Institute.
19 students graduated from the institute and just two of those were women. Rhodes said the fact that women are underrepresented is what influenced her to become a police officer.
"I feel like growing up in a rural small area that there weren't as many people to look up to and so it did influence my decision a little bit to go this route just to show someone who can be a strong independent female become a strong independent mentor as well," Rhodes said.
The Columbia Police Department shows similar numbers with women making up just 16 percent of total officers despite accounting for more than 50 percent of the population.
Rhodes recently got a job with the Columbia Police Department, adding one more woman to the police department.
Columbia's 5 males for every female ratio isn't uncommon though. In fact it's 3 percent higher than the United State's total number of officers.
"What I look for are the best qualified candidates and I do my very best to recruit in areas that I know will include minorities," Jones said, "We really make an effort to recruit in areas that will be representative of the community that we live in."
Jones said the Columbia Police Department has recently started trying different ways to recruit potential officers.
"We had an open house here in November, we send officers to colleges, universities, We put a motorcycle in the mall," Jones said, "We want people to realize that being a police officer isn't just for criminal justice students."
Jones said he doesn't have an answer for why women and minorities account for so little of the police force but a new testing process could create larger numbers among these groups.
The new testing process is likely to have an adverse impact on minorities according to Jones. He also says the police department has worked on the new process for over a year.
"They use this test to make sure everybody is on a level playing field," Jones said, "We all learn differently, we come from different communities, different backgrounds and that needs to be taken into account when we develop tests."
The Columbia Police Department is currently accepting applications and those they consider will be the first to go through the new testing process.