By Rebecca Flannery
In an Associated Press analysis of racial disparities at American police departments, Waco was highlighted as a city with a significant gap between its percentage of Hispanic officers versus community members.
Recent events nationwide in Ferguson, Mo. and Anaheim, Calif. between police forces and their communities have sparked an interest in determining the cause of these conflicts. The Associated Press analyzed Census Bureau data and Justice Department figures regarding law enforcement and found Hispanics are more often underrepresented in police departments than African-Americans.
Waco is a community with more than 30 percent Hispanic citizens, but in the police department of 231 full-time sworn officers, only 11 percent are Hispanic, according to the department.
Sgt. Patrick Swanton, public information officer for the Waco Police Department, said they are aware of the issue.
“It certainly is an issue that we’re trying to focus on,” Swanton said. “We’re trying to hire more minorities in the area by asking businesses and recruiting in minority neighborhoods.”
However, Swanton said the department isn’t in any rush to make good numbers if it means jeopardizing the quality of its service.
“We do feel like we’re making headway on the issue,” Swanton said. “However, we’re not dropping our standards of candidates in order to make people happy with numbers. We’re still looking for well-rounded candidates that would be an asset to the force.”
Other police departments with similar racial disparities as Waco included in the analysis were Anaheim, Calif., where more than half the community is Hispanic compared to the 23 percent Hispanic officers.
East Haven, Conn., where nearly 9 percent of the population is Hispanic, less than 1 percent of officers in the police department are Hispanic.
In Ferguson, Mo., where a white police officer shot and killed an unarmed black 18-year-old Aug. 9, brought up issues of possible police discrimination. This led to riots and protests.
The area is about 65 percent black whereas only 11 percent of the police department is also black, according to 2007 figures from the Justice Department.
Attorney General Eric Holder on Thursday announced a Justice Department investigation into the practices of the city’s police department. Holder said he and his department heard numerous concerns from people in Ferguson about police practices, a history of “deep mistrust” and a lack of diversity on the police force.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.