In the world of corporate recruitment, an increasing emphasis is being placed on diversity, so much so that just over a year ago, the CEOs of some of this country's largest companies - Home Depot, Walmart, Staples and Target, among others - joined together to promote the issue.

Why it's important

When a community is staffed by law enforcement agencies that mirror its population, studies show that these communities see their agencies as "more legitimate," have more respect for the officers, and take ownership in the policing of the community.

Essentially, the better equipped the agencies are to communicate fully and directly with the community in question - and vice versa - the better off the community is, and the opposite is true as well.

It's more than meets the eye

In police recruitment, just as in corporate hiring, the first thing to take into account when prioritizing diversity is that outreach should focus on more than just the obvious considerations like race and gender.

Many facets of the diversity landscape go into making a full-featured force that's reflective of the community in which it is embedded: Factors like sexual orientation, age, family background, religion, occupation, educational background, and even neighborhood can all go into creating a varied team that's uniquely equipped to serve.

Additionally, by recruiting a richly varied team, a department reaps the benefit of a range of talents to put in service of the community as well. At one time, law enforcement may have attracted a "type" of officer - the hard-boiled middle-aged male who paid his dues by rising through the ranks, never seeing his family, and getting more or less playfully abused by his colleagues and superiors, never praised, while on the job.

Now, efforts to achieve diversity by their very nature as a side benefit result in the addition of personnel who bring a full range of complementary traits to bear on the task of assisting the community. These characteristics range from sincere empathy and compassion, to the ability to multitask, to unprecedented teamwork skills.

Skills like the capability to speak a second language are also enormously attractive in today's law enforcement environment. By leveraging everyone's strengths, rather than viewing differences as "other," law enforcement agencies become stronger than ever before.

Diversity isn't all a stroll through the park

While there is much to gain from diversifying your force, it's certainly not complication-free. Whenever you put people with differences together, personalities are bound to clash. Additionally, you may encounter the perception that there is some kind of preferential treatment being given to the new types of candidates who are being added to the force, when nothing could be further from the truth. Make sure that you follow all of the correct hiring compliance protocols, and these issues will generally work themselves out.

Additionally, the success of diversifying your agency is incumbent on buy-in at the highest levels of leadership. If a diversification initiative is simply given lip service by the chief officers of your agency, it will fail every time; if those in leadership roles share the vision for how this effort will make the force as a whole and each individual officer more effective on a day-to-day basis, it's much more likely to succeed.

Steps to achieving diversity in police recruitment

That's where the work of a successful diversity recruitment effort begins: With buy-in among the leadership of the force. Additionally, if you make a concerted effort to include diverse candidates in your recruiting for those leadership positions as well as those within the general body of the force, then the leaders of your agency should naturally begin to reflect your community as well. The more applicants see themselves reflected in your agency, especially in positions of leadership, the more likely they are to believe your agency is the place for them.

Here are some other suggestions for successfully recruiting diverse candidates for your agency:

  • Create marketing tools to appeal to these audiences. Consider the benefits that a career in law enforcement offers each particular candidate base you're interested in attracting from among your community. In an article on the subject, Booker Hodges observes, "I have found that becoming a police officer for many minority officers was their ticket out of poverty. Highlighting the financial benefits of the job and the positives your community has to offer them may help attract diverse candidates to your organization."

  • Invest in your reputation among diverse audiences. Take care to address each and every instance of controversy - real or perceived - between your agency and the minority groups within your community, as well as the various minority groups within your agency itself. Also, be proactive with community involvement events where citizens have the opportunity to get their questions answered and learn about the operations of your agency. Transparency can go a long way toward trust and positive relations.

  • Partner with associations that represent the groups you want to fold into your agency. Many groups represent the interests of law enforcement officers of various minorities - the International Association of Women Police, the National Black Police Association, the National Asian Peace Officers' Association, and the National Latino Peace Officers Association just to name a few. These groups offer many resources for recruitment and can help you in your efforts to reach out to the communities they support.

When police recruitment is already difficult, adding another demand to the checklist in the form of establishing a diverse force can seem like an unrealistic burden. You may find, however, that by adjusting your recruiting techniques, you actually have an easier time attracting candidates from within the population you serve, and molding your force to be reflective of that community at the same time. In this manner, once you put in a little effort, recruiting for diversity not only pays off in the near term but for generations to come.