Creating a Multicultural Law Enforcement Agency: An Intentional Priority

Different viewpoints identify different reasons for actively and intentionally integrating minorities into the workforce. Some argue that diversity-promoting policies exist to remedy past wrongs of discrimination, attempt to overcome discrimination, and increase the representation of traditionally disadvantaged groups in more lucrative jobs and management positions. This perspective diminishes the inherent value of diversity, reducing it to a game of fairness. Others posit that employers should not focus on recruiting and hiring minorities specifically because employers should hire the best qualified candidates available without regard to cultural diversity. This stance implies that diversity is not an integral element of organizational excellence and assumes both that implicit biases of hiring personnel do not negatively impact diversity within an agency and that a lack of diversity does not negatively impact the community. Neither of these perspectives grasp the true importance and benefits of workplace diversity. Valuing diversity does not mean placing unqualified minority applicants in jobs; it merely recognizes that it might require proactive recruitment and selection to discover the many qualified minority potential applicants who exist. Although the need for diversity in the workplace is now widely recognized in organizations throughout the world, it is too often viewed only in terms of legal compliance in human rights protection. In reality, the implications of the diversity are much greater than mere compliance. With policies in place that encourage and manage diversity, law enforcement agencies can reap the many benefits of workplace diversity. However, if law enforcement agencies continue in their failure to achieve cultural diversity, both their effectiveness and community relations will continue to diminish.

 Creating a Diverse Workplace

There are two fundamentally different philosophical approaches that are used to create a diverse workplace. One approach is often referred to as color-blindness. This view suggests that racial categories do not matter and should not be considered when making organizational decisions such as hiring, assignments, and promotions. The basis for this approach is the idea that people should be treated and managed based solely on their character and performance. The underlying premise is that social categories should be dismantled and disregarded, thereby allowing everyone to be treated as an individual. The second approach, often called multiculturalism, proposes that different ethnic groups should be acknowledged, considered, and intentionally included in the workplace culture. Both the color-blind approach and the multicultural approach are found in the extant literature on intergroup relations in social psychology. In one research article, “The Impact of Multiculturalism versus Color-Blindness on Racial Bias,” the authors conclude the color-blind perspective generates greater racial attitude bias.1 The findings of this study add to previous research advocating a multicultural model of intergroup relations as the more promising route to interracial harmony.

Benefits of and Barriers to a Culturally Diverse Law Enforcement Agency

Diversity yields many benefits, both internally and externally. From a human resource perspective, acquiring and retaining a diverse group of employees is critical to leveraging the talents of all employees and competing in a global community. Leadership diversity in any organization can promote improved problem-solving and innovation.2 Additionally, inclusive organizations will find it easier to manage diverse groups, in part because their recruitment practices are likely to screen out highly prejudiced individuals.3 Diversity also boosts police legitimacy in the eyes of the public. While African Americans report perceptions of police bias, even leading to a pervasive fear of police brutality, officer diversity can create confidence in a law enforcement agency’s understanding of local issues and a perception of more positive interactions between officers and minorities.4 Reflecting the utmost importance of diversity, the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies lists the recruitment and selection of a culturally diverse law enforcement agency proportionate to the community as a mandatory standard.5

The challenge of managing diversity is creating conditions that minimize its potential to be a performance barrier while maximizing its potential to enhance organizational performance.6 Organizations that lack diversity management can incur costs, including legal action, resulting from discrimination and associated negative publicity, along with negative employee attitudes like lower commitment and lower job satisfaction.7 In an article on managing cultural diversity, researchers Taylor H. Cox and Stacy Blake suggest that heterogeneous workgroups will be more creative, innovative, and adept at problem-solving, but only if they are managed properly.8 Therefore, management experts Carolyn Chavez and Judith Weisinger suggest that employee training should focus on “managing for diversity” to leverage the competitive advantage of diverse human capital.9

Why Some Diversity Efforts Fail

Studies conducted on the diversity composition of law enforcement agencies have concluded that ethnic minorities are seriously underrepresented in sworn law enforcement jobs, with recruiters continuing to use the same unproductive recruiting strategies while hoping for different results.10 Many recruitment programs do not work because of the lack of recruitment strategic planning, out-of-touch marketing strategies, and a selection process that undermines an effective recruitment process. Attempts to attract candidates from specific demographic groups will likely fail if the target audience has not been adequately notified of law enforcement interest.11 Rarely do police managers fully inform community members what it takes to be a successful candidate relative to the qualifications, testing, background investigations, and successful completion of the police academy.12 Furthermore, it is common for most recruiting teams to be composed of mostly white male patrol officers and mid-level management staff, despite various studies that have determined that black job applicants are hired at a greater rate by organizations with black hiring agents than by those without.13

This is not to say that law enforcement agencies intentionally discriminate. In fact, no overt racism is necessary for the imbalance in racial representation to be present. This is because humans naturally rely on subconscious motivations and stereotypes, tending to gravitate toward people who are like them.14 This problem is exacerbated by arbitrary or subjective criteria for hiring and promotion, which increases reliance of personal bias and reduces accountability, and by word-of-mouth recruitment, which generally recreates the same demographic workforce.15

The First Step: Developing Selection Criteria

The first challenge in the recruitment process is trying to find suitable candidates among a pool of potential candidates, which, to many, appears to be diminishing in quality. Before a law enforcement agency can find qualified candidates, it must first determine the dimensions of job success. To this end, each agency must identify a flexible profile of an effective officer. In other words, what are the knowledge, skills, education, training, experience, and traits that make someone an effective officer? There are five core traits that any officer should have: integrity, dedication to service, human relations skills, compatibility with a team, and a drive to excel. These traits all point back to the main requirement for all officers: leadership skills and the prudent use of authority. These qualifications are vital because even the newest officers have considerable authority in the community and the potential to become leaders in their agencies. Integrity reflects the ability to use such authority in an ethical manner and with compassion. Dedication to service means considering service to other people to be more important than oneself and demonstrating this service focus in human interaction. Human relations skills are demonstrated by the ability to manage both conflict and confrontation in the community. Team compatibility requires using authority according to the guidelines of the law enforcement agency in conjunction with others, including fellow officers and members of the community. Finally, a excellence-driven officer has a desire to consistently improve in each of these areas without the need of supervision or prompting to do so.16 Each of these core character traits is vital for any aspiring officer to succeed in law enforcement.

In addition to these core traits, each agency should identify specific needs in its particular community. For example, a rural community will have different needs than an urban community. Any number of elements will shape the needs of the community: history, cultural composition, demographics, and climate could all be factors in the community. From its identified needs, an agency can create target criteria for law enforcement officer recruits that fit the environment. With this target in mind, agencies must be proactive in identifying individuals that match this profile, especially underrepresented minority candidates, a process called “targeted selection.” An agency first identifies potentially effective candidates based on these “critical success factors” and then determines where to find them.

Digging Deeper: Key Recruiting Strategies

Developing stronger recruitment strategies requires a greater focus on competing with the private sector for qualified candidates, which might involve increasing pay or benefits. This will also likely involve creating permanent recruitment units (which can be sustained by agencies pooling resources, if necessary); streamlining the application process as much as possible (to prevent losing applicants during the extended process); and varying assessment measures to include job-simulation and interpersonal skills testing.17 Agencies should also track success rates of different racial groups on each assessment measure to uncover specific tests that disproportionately impede minority applicants.18 Furthermore, agencies benefit from investing in recruiter training and tracking the time it takes to hire, the cost to hire, the turnover rate, and the best candidate sources, reviewing the data to see what works best in their particular communities.19

Beyond general recruitment improvement, strategies that deal specifically with minority recruitment are vital. General recruitment strategies do not effectively reach minority groups because minorities are often not properly targeted.20 Recruiting minorities effectively means capitalizing on the unique assets of the specific community. Law enforcement agencies should work together with minority officers and organizations to discern the best strategy for their context, while also integrating minorities into marketing and recruitment to offset potential implicit conceptions of bias. Agencies should also use the Discover Policing project as a valuable resource. This program seeks to connect agencies and diverse potential recruits, specifically applicants who might not have considered the possibility of working in law enforcement. Specific programs that can be used to aid recruitment of minority youths include the Explorers program and a cadet program. Law enforcement agencies can also consider mentorship programs and internships as a way encouraging young minority candidates to enter the field of law enforcement.21

Integration: Law Enforcement Leadership’s Role

The leader of an agency has an indispensable role in integrating minority candidates who are hired. Without active involvement from the leadership, diversity efforts are unlikely to succeed. The leader must understand and lead the process, bearing in mind these five management components of diversity management: (1) strong leadership, (2) planning and research, {3) training and education, (4) policy and management controls, and (5) a follow-up and feedback system.

Strong Leadership

The leader must establish a clear vision, identify organizational goals, and develop a plan to integrate minority staff. Articulating an organizational philosophy of the purpose, value, and standards for creating a multicultural community, the leader must demonstrate personal commitment to the success of this organizational change and communicate clearly what steps to take and why.

Planning and Research

Leadership should begin by auditing the agency to determine the current multicultural environment by collecting demographic information of the service population to determine the ethnicities and cultural identities present. In this task, agencies can benefit from local professors, who can conduct the organizational audit and a community assessment. Oftentimes, professors are willing to provide this service at no cost as part of a research for tenure or as part of their career development. The agency’s chief executive should also create a plan and determine how to incrementally progress toward predetermined goals. The Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement lists such a recruitment plan as a requirement for internationally accredited law enforcement agencies, requiring specific steps and reasonable objectives, annual analysis and revision, and a method to allow for filing complaints.22

Training and Education

Attempting a major cultural change in an organization is highly unlikely to be successful without an intensive effort to help people learn new information and develop skills. Both education (“why to”) and training (“how to”) are essential components of an agency’s multicultural implementation strategy. Education should provide research and data that demonstrate the competitive edge of multicultural organizations. Training should be designed to provide skills in areas such as recruitment, selection, and management in a multicultural workplace. Training and education should include every member of the organization, with an emphasis on managers.

Policy and Management Controls

A law enforcement agency’s general orders manual should contain an overview of the agency’s philosophy and standards for a multicultural environment. A management control system must be instituted in areas such as hiring, assignments, promotions, supervision, and performance appraisals to create an effective multicultural workplace. All managers should be evaluated in part on their progress toward established diversity goals. In other words, these management functions should align with the goals of leveraging diversity.

Follow-up and Feedback System

The follow-up and feedback system involves developing and implementing a multicultural action plan that assigns responsibility for specific tasks. However, all managers must have a role in creating a multicultural workplace. There should be a method for evaluating and establishing accountability for results. This component must overlap with the other four strategies, but is especially linked with the leadership’s diversity plan. This component periodically measures the agency’s success in achieving diversity and integration goals and allows for corrective action whenever necessary.


Cultural diversity is a fact of life. Law enforcement spans diverse communities and can lead the way in demonstrating to other professions how effective diverse organizations should operate. To achieve their diversity goals, law enforcement agencies must not only recognize that generic recruitment strategies and unfocused diversity management will not bring the desired advantages of diversity, but they also must intentionally pursue diversity strategies that are customized to be effective in their specific communities. By doing so, agencies will gain enhanced diversity and reap its benefits.


 Patrick Oliver, PhD, is currently an associate professor of criminal justice and director of the Criminal Justice Program for Cedarville University. He recently served as chief of police for the city of Fairborn, Ohio. He previously served as the chief of police in Grandview Heights, Cleveland, Ohio, and the ranger chief of Cleveland Metropolitan Park District. He served 11 years as a trooper with the Ohio State Highway Patrol.  He has a PhD in leadership and change from Antioch University, Yellow Springs, Ohio.

Chief Oliver serves as a consultant and a trainer with the Ohio Association of Chiefs of Police, the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), and the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives (NOBLE). He is also a past commissioner for the Commission of Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies, a past president of the Ohio Association of Chiefs of Police, and a past member of the Civil Rights committee of the IACP. He is the founder and director of the Chief Executive Officers Mentoring Program for NOBLE and the author of Recruitment, Selection, and Retention of Law Enforcement Officers.



1 Jennifer A. Richeson and Richard J. Nussbaum, “The Impact of Multiculturalism Versus Color-Blindness on Racial Bias,” Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 40, no. 3 (May 2004): 417–423.

2 Gail Robinson and Kathleen Dechant, “Building a Business Case for Diversity,” Academy of Management Perspectives 11, no. 3 (August 1997): 21–31; Ekaterina Walter, “Reaping the Benefits of Diversity for Modern Business Innovation,” Forbes, January 14, 2014.

3 Kristyn A. Scott, Joanna M. Heathcote, and Jamie A. Gruman, “The Diverse Organization: Finding Gold at the end of the Rainbow,” Human Resource Management 50, no. 6 (November–December 2011): 735–755.

4 Benjamin Watson and Ken Petersen, Under Our Skin: Getting Real about Race—and Getting Free from the Fears and Frustrations That Divide Us (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale, 2015), 91–92; Charles P. Wilson et al., “Recruiting for Diversity in Law Enforcement: An Evaluation of Practices Used by State and Local Agencies,” Journal of Ethnicity in Criminal Justice 11, no. 4 (October 2013): 238–255.

5 Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA), Standards for Law Enforcement Agencies: The Standard Manual of the Law Enforcement Agency Accreditation Program, 5th ed. (Fairfax, VA: 2006), 31–32.

6 Taylor Cox, Creating the Multicultural Organization: A Strategy for Capturing the Power of Diversity (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2001), 3–4.

7 Erika Hayes James and Lynn Perry Wooten, “Diversity Crises: How Firms Manage Discrimination Lawsuits,” Academy of Management Journal 49, no. 6 (December 2006): 1103–1118; Nancy D. Ursel and Marjorie Armstrong-Stassen, “How Age Discrimination in Employment Affects Stockholders,” Journal of Labor Research 27, no. 1 (March 2006): 89–99.

8 Taylor H. Cox and Stacy Blake, “Managing Cultural Diversity: Implications for Organizational Competitiveness,” The Executive 5, no. 3 (August 1991): 45–56.

9 Carolyn I. Chavez and Judith Y. Weisinger, “Beyond Diversity Training: A Social Infusion for Cultural Inclusion,” Human Resource Management 47, no. 2 (Summer 2008): 331–350.

10 Brian Reaves, Local Police Departments, 2007 (Washington, D.C.: United States Department of Justice, U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2010), 14; William T. Jordan et al., “Attracting Females and Racial/Ethnic Minorities to Law Enforcement,” Journal of Criminal Justice 37, no. 4 (July 2009): 333–341; Kevin Johnson, “The Community Recruiter,” The Police Chief 72, no. 6 (June 2005): 16–20.

11 Alan Deal, “Why Recruitment in Law Enforcement Isn’t Working,” (lecture, California Commission on Police Officer Standards and Training, Sacramento, CA, June 17, 2008); Thomas S. Whetstone, John C. Reed, and Phillip C. Turner, “Recruiting: A Comparative Study of the Recruiting Practices of State Police Agencies,” International Journal of Police Science and Management 8, no. 1 (March 2006): 52–66.

12 Johnson, “The Community Recruiter.”

13 Dennis Jay Kenney and Robert P. McNamara, Police and Policing: Contemporary Issues, 2nd ed. (Westport, CT: Praeger, 1999); Harry J. Holzer and Keith R. Ihlanfeldt, “Customer Discrimination and Employment Outcomes for Minority Workers,” Quarterly Journal of Economics 113, no. 3 (August 1998): 835–867; Michael A. Stoll, Steven Raphael, and Harry J. Holzer, “Black Job Applicants and the Hiring Officer’s Race,” Industrial and Labor Relations Review 57, no. 2 (January 2004): 267–287.

14 Ronald Wheeler, “We All Do It: Unconscious Behavior, Bias, and Diversity,” Suffolk University Law Library Journal 107, no. 2 (2015): 325–331.

15 William T. Bielby, “Minimizing Workplace Gender and Racial Bias,” Contemporary Sociology 29, no. 1 (January 2000): 120–129.

16 Patrick Oliver, Recruitment, Selection & Retention of Law Enforcement Officers (Flushing, NY: Looseleaf Law Publications, 2014), 4–5.

17 Bruce Taylor, et al., Cop Crunch: Identifying Strategies for Dealing with the Recruiting and Hiring Crisis in Law Enforcement (Washington, DC: Police Executive Research Forum, April 2006).

18 Walter A. Tangel and Andrew Morabito, “Minority Recruitment: A Working Model,” The Police Chief 71, no. 3 (March 2004): 51–57.

19Recruiting Orientation Guide,” Workforce 94, no. 6 (June 2015): 24–27.

20 Wilson et al., “Recruiting for Diversity in Law Enforcement.”

21 See Patricia Digh, “Getting People in the Pool: Diversity Recruitment That Works,” HR Magazine 44, no. 10 (October 1999): 94–98; also see the website and “Law Enforcement Career Exploring,” Exploring: Real-World Career Experiences.

22 CALEA, Standards for Law Enforcement Agencies.