• A new study of the Chicago police suggests that having a more diverse force may improve policing, researchers say.
  • Hispanic and Black officers make fewer arrests than white officers, particularly against Black civilians, the study shows.
  • Female officers of all racial groups use less force than males.
  • The research could provide valuable insight at a time when US law enforcement is grappling with disproportionate violence against Black civilians by police officers.

A study of diversity in US law enforcement has backed up theories that a more diverse police force may improve policing.

Hispanic and Black officers make far fewer stops and arrests than white officers, especially against Black civilians, according to new research on the city of Chicago police force. The trend was particularly noticeable in predominantly Black areas of the city, and was focused on minor crimes and non-violent offences, the study authors say.

In their report, called The role of officer race and gender in police-civilian interactions in Chicago, researchers and data scientists, assembled from different American universities, found that over the course of 100 shifts Black officers make around 15 fewer stops and two fewer arrests than white counterparts working in similar neighbourhoods at similar times.

a graph showing that the number of stops per 100 shifts varies by officer race
The number of stops per 100 shifts varies by officer race.
Image: American Association for the Advancement of Science

The data is based on nearly 3 million officer shifts between 2012 and 2015, covering 1.6 million enforcement events by nearly 7000 officers.

The researchers also found that female officers of all racial groups use less force than males.

a graph showing the effects of deploying officers from marginalized groups, by local racial composition
Effects of deploying officers from marginalized groups, by local racial composition.
Image: American Association for the Advancement of Science

Tackling a lack of diversity in law enforcement

As American law enforcement tries to address the disproportionate number of Black Americans shot and killed by police, the research could provide valuable insight.

Black Americans are far more likely to be shot and killed by the police than their white compatriots. Figures from the US National Library of Medicine found that between 2009 and 2012, 32% of people killed as a consequence of police action were Black – a disproportionately large proportion compared with the general population, of which Black people make up around 13%.

In recent years the city of Chicago has made a series of attempts to make itself more reflective of the city’s population; about half of its police officers are now non-white and more than one-fifth are women.

What's the World Economic Forum doing about diversity, equity and inclusion?

The COVID-19 pandemic and recent social and political unrest have created a profound sense of urgency for companies to actively work to tackle inequity.

The Forum's work on Diversity, Equality, Inclusion and Social Justice is driven by the New Economy and Society Platform, which is focused on building prosperous, inclusive and just economies and societies. In addition to its work on economic growth, revival and transformation, work, wages and job creation, and education, skills and learning, the Platform takes an integrated and holistic approach to diversity, equity, inclusion and social justice, and aims to tackle exclusion, bias and discrimination related to race, gender, ability, sexual orientation and all other forms of human diversity.

But critics argue that lack of diversity in police forces is only part of the problem. Despite making progress in terms of the diversity of its police force, Chicago PD has faced repeated criticism relating to the fatal shootings of, predominantly, young Black men by the police. Civil rights organizations like Color of Change argue in favour of reallocating money and other resources into community-based initiatives that champion alternative approaches.