DOJ: Criminal Background Checks, Citizenship Requirements Barriers to Police-Force Diversity

Lauretta Brown | October 5, 2016 | 3:28pm EDT
Font Size
(AP Photo)

( – The Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) released a comprehensive report Wednesday examining law enforcement hiring, recruitment, and retention policies with the aim of increasing diversity in police departments.

The report--"Advancing Diversity in Law Enforcement"--highlighted barriers to diversity within police departments, such as “the use of criminal background checks” which the researchers found “is likely to disproportionately impact racial minority applicants.”

The report also found that U.S. citizenship requirements “may prevent a considerable number of racial and ethnic minorities – many of whom have valuable foreign language skills – from being hired by law enforcement agencies.”

The report opened with an analysis of EEOC labor force data, which “found that African-American, Latino, and Asian-American police officers were underrepresented relative to the local area population in a significant number of the departments analyzed. Using a statistical test of underrepresentation, the researchers found that within their sample, African Americans were underrepresented in 60 percent of the departments, Latinos were underrepresented in 41 percent, and Asian Americans were underrepresented in 31 percent.”

The use of criminal background checks, the report noted,

"Researchers and practitioners," the report said, "have also highlighted that the use of criminal background checks, which are a regular part of the screening process for many agencies, is likely to disproportionately impact racial minority applicants since, for a variety of reasons, individuals from those communities are more likely to have contact with the criminal justice system.

"While law enforcement agencies are undeniably justified in carefully vetting and investigating potential hires,” the report said, "excluding applicants regardless of the nature of the underlying offense, or how much time has passed since an offense occurred, or without any consideration of whether the candidate has changed in the intervening period, can be a significant – and unwarranted – barrier.”

The report also argued that residency and citizenship requirements can limit underrepresented communities’ presence in law enforcement.

“While Federal law allows law enforcement agencies to impose a citizenship requirement where it is authorized by state or local law,” the report said, “this requirement may prevent a considerable number of racial and ethnic minorities – many of whom have valuable foreign language skills – from being hired by law enforcement agencies.”

“Allowing work-authorized non-U.S. citizens to work in state and local law enforcement, particularly in jurisdictions with large immigrant populations, can enable agencies to more closely represent the diversity of their community,” the report later added. “Especially as agencies work to serve communities with a large percentage of limited English proficient (LEP) residents, excluding officers who are not U.S. citizens may significantly limit the number of applicants who speak languages other than English.”  

The report went on to highlight barriers to the LGBT community’s representation in law enforcement saying, “individuals from LGBT communities have identified issues such as anti-LGBT discrimination and harassment and insensitivity towards the needs of officers undergoing a gender transition as obstacles to considering careers in certain law enforcement agencies.”

Researchers also found that “women and LGBT individuals who have encountered bias in their interactions with police may also have reservations about joining law enforcement.”

On the hiring of women in law enforcement, according to the report, “research has shown that physical tests may have a significant and unnecessary impact on female applicants when they lack a corresponding benefit or job-related need.

“If these tests are administered in a manner that overemphasizes physical strength, fail to account for improvements that will result from training, or fail to account for inherent physiological differences between men and women, they may not be selecting for what is actually necessary on the job or is similarly required for the effective absorption of necessary law enforcement training, and consequently may screen out otherwise qualified women,” the report stated.

In its appendix on Title VII enforcement, the report noted that “agencies frequently rely on written tests, oral interviews, physical tests, background checks, and other processes to screen applicants.”

“These processes may violate the law if they disproportionately screen out applicants from protected classes and are not job-related and consistent with business necessity,” it warned. “This holds true even if the screens were not intended to discriminate. Even if such practices are job-related and consistent with business necessity, an employer will still be liable under Title VII if it failed to use an alternative employment practice with a less severe impact that serves its legitimate employment needs.”

“Ensuring that law enforcement agencies represent the diversity of the communities they serve can help restore trust and improve policing,” Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, said in a statement.  

“Building on innovative and creative strategies implemented by law enforcement around the country, our report highlights how agencies are bridging divides and creating lasting results. We hope agencies utilize this resource as they strive to strengthen their diversity and we look forward to engaging with law enforcement on this critical topic over the coming months,” she added.

mrc merch