A quiet transformation has taken place in the New York Police Department — and it’s for the good. Although not widely publicized, this change could have a significant effect on the NYPD’s relationship with the black and Latino communities and other minorities.
In numbers, minorities are now the majority.
Nearly one out of three police officers is Hispanic; another 19 percent is black. In the past, Asian people never figured in the statistical breakdown, but now comprise 5.6 percent of the force. Together, these three groups now add up to 52.5 percent of police officers.
Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly told me: “In diversity there is strength. It helps the department in all aspects of its work, from community relations and conventional crime fighting to counter-terrorism.”
The NYPD, Kelly says, “has by far the most speakers of foreign languages in uniform. The most common foreign language is Spanish but we have officers who are fluent in 60 more foreign languages.”
The big strides in accomplishing diversity are a credit to Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly. He believed that diversity would help the department in all areas. And, because of a large number of retirements after he took over in 2002, Kelly had an opportunity to hire many officers. By the end of 2006, whites had fallen to just 49.9 percent of the department and the percentages for Hispanics, blacks and Asians were increasing steadily.
We have learned that the new demographics in the department have been accomplished gradually by encouraging young people in the black and Latino communities to go into police work. It’s been a slow process. It’s taken years. But now the composition of the department more closely reflects the general population.
Is it important? A senior police official said: “It certainly is. It increases the capacity of the force to understand the problems of the black and Hispanic neighborhoods and respond to them with sensitivity and concern. And people in these communities will also be able to relate better to the need the NYPD has for cooperation in the neighborhoods of the city.”
Kelly deserves praise for making the NYPD a more efficient organization, responsive to the needs of an ever-changing city.