As Seattle residents wait for Mayor Bruce Harrell’s promised plan to address a critical police shortage, a federal bill offers long-term aid for law enforcement agencies across the country struggling to recruit and retain qualified law enforcement officers.
A bipartisan group of U.S. representatives hopes to ease recruitment woes by encouraging agencies to attract and train midcareer professionals and candidates from traditionally underrepresented communities. The Pathways to Policing Act is modeled after a successful Minnesota program that has helped law enforcement agencies in that state diversify and strengthen officers’ ranks.
The bill was introduced last month by Minnesota Democrat Rep. Dean Phillips and co-sponsored by four other Democrats and five Republicans, including Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Battle Ground. Herrera Beutler and Phillips both are vice chairs of the Problem Solvers Caucus, an independent member-driven group which seeks bipartisan solutions to often contentious issues like gun reform and school safety, immigration and criminal justice reform.
The bill offers a good example of policy that focuses on problems, not political posturing. It would earmark $50 million for competitive grants to help local law enforcement agencies create “pathway” programs. Those programs include outreach and financial assistance for nontraditional and underrepresented candidates, particularly those who live in or are willing to move to the communities they will serve. The U.S. Department of Justice would receive an additional $50 million for a national recruitment marketing campaign to reach new potential recruits.
The intent is not only to recruit more officers, but to attract pools of candidates with greater racial, ethnic and cultural diversity as well as different strengths, life experiences and expertise. Decades of research has repeatedly reinforced the myriad benefits of diversity within law enforcement agencies, not just in terms of race and gender, but also other characteristics like language ability, religion, sexual orientation and experience.
When police departments mirror their communities, it builds trust, public confidence and cooperation, all of which increases the safety and effectiveness of officers in the line of duty.
As the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission noted in a 2016 report on diversity in law enforcement, research strongly suggests that increased diversity can help break old cultural patterns within departments, making them more receptive of reforms and more responsive to communities.
In targeting both the quantity and qualities of potential candidates, the Pathways to Policing proposal wisely seeks to solve both the immediate problem of staffing and the broader issue of police-community relations. As a long-term solution, it deserves congressional support.