By Kristin McGurn and Molly Mooney

Seyfarth Synopsis: A coalition report issued by DOJ and EEOC that tackles workplace diversity barriers in the ranks of law enforcement sheds light on the agencies’ views of best practices for enhancing diversity in recruitment, hiring and retention, which are applicable to all employers.

On October 5, 2016, the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Civil Rights Department and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) co-released Advancing Diversity in Law Enforcement, a report aimed at tackling diversity in America’s law enforcement ranks.  The DOJ/EEOC coalition resulted from President Obama’s December 2014 Task Force on 21st Century Policing.  That Task Force brought together law enforcement leaders, advocates, academics, policymakers, and community members to strategize around strengthening community-police relations, reducing crime, and advancing public safety.  A key Task Force recommendation was to ensure law enforcement agencies better reflect the diversity of the communities they serve.  The EEOC and DOJ’s findings are generally applicable to employers hoping to promote or maintain diversity in the workplace.

As a result of the Task Force, DOJ and EEOC launched an interagency research initiative designed to help law enforcement agencies recruit, hire, and retain officers that reflect the diversity of the communities in which they work. The report focuses on these primary channels for improving diversity, and concludes that significant barriers to diversity hinder recruitment, hiring and retention.  For example, strained relationships between law enforcement and underrepresented communities may dissuade members of those communities from applying to be officers.  Similarly, law enforcement agencies’ reliance on inadequately tailored examinations as part of the screening process may inadvertently exclude qualified individuals from underrepresented communities from the applicant pool.  Finally, when such individuals are hired, they may face difficulties in the promotion process due to a lack of transparency, and a scarcity of role models, mentors, and development opportunities.

DOJ and EEOC collaborated with law enforcement leaders, civil rights advocates, employment litigators, and other subject matter experts to analyze promising practices being developed and used to combat these barriers to diversity. The report acknowledges that employers in many industries have engaged in proactive efforts to improve diversity, and ultimately concludes that the three most important ways to do so in law enforcement, where the need is urgent, are focusing on community policing, engaging stakeholders (within and outside of law enforcement), and reevaluating employment criteria, standards, and benchmarks.

With respect to recruitment, the report urges agencies to pursue targeted community outreach efforts to encourage people from diverse populations to consider careers in law enforcement. It also concludes that partnerships with schools and universities can address, and reverse, historically negative perceptions or experiences diverse communities report having had with law enforcement.  Additionally, the innovative use of technology and social media was found to be critical to law enforcement’s ability to connect with all members of the community.  The DC Metropolitan Police Department, for example, maintains a robust social media presence and reported that ninety percent of applicants reach the department from either their smartphone or tablet.

With respect to hiring, the report concludes that agencies that adopt a holistic view of the skills and strengths of applicants may be better able to diversify their ranks. This involves a willingness on the part of law enforcement agencies to reevaluate information revealed during background checks and to reconsider selection criteria that are unrelated to job performance.

Finally, the report advocates for mentorship programs and leadership training, which are considered essential. Incentives, such as temporary housing, college credit, or financial bonuses for foreign language skills, also can help diverse officers stay on the job.

The processes and practices identified in the report are easily transferrable to a variety of workplaces and settings. For example, the report concludes that mentorship programs can help retain diverse employees by providing them with an informal mechanism through which to learn critical, and often unwritten, information about how to succeed and advance in a particular workplace.  The report also serves as a reminder to employers that all stages of employment — recruitment, hiring, and retention – call for implementing and maintaining practices that will promote and sustain diversity.  Research supporting the report suggests that increasing workplace diversity yields employers that are more responsive, open to reform, and willing to initiate cultural and systemic changes, which are worthy goals for all employers.

For more information on this or any related topic please contact the authors, your Seyfarth attorney, or any member of the Workplace Policies and Handbooks Team.