“…the statistics are just a measure of where Minneapolis currently is on the tape of time.”
By Matt Johnson, The Systems Scientist
In a recent article, Reg Chapman, veteran reporter for WCCO News, wrote about the long and challenging history of creating a diversified Minneapolis Police Department. As Chapman explained in his piece, the Minneapolis Police Department hired its first “black” officer in 1881.
But for decades, and because of segregation laws and cultural norms and perceptions, very few African-Americans served on the force or in a greater than minimal capacity. For example, “black” officers were not allowed to arrest “white” citizens from the 1880’s through the 1930’s. But clearly, things have changed for the better since the 1930’s.
Today, as Chapman explains, there are 70 African-American or “black” officers on a Minneapolis police force of 850. As a percentage, that is 8.2 percent. But what does that 8.2 percent mean? Can it be used as an indicator to illustrate the diversity of the police force compared to the diversity of the African-American, or “black,” population of Minneapolis?
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Minneapolis is approximately 18 percent African-American, or “black.” In order to see if the percent of the African-American population in the Minneapolis Police Department is similar to the percent of the African-American population in Minneapolis, statisticians and mathematical scientists use a technique called Relative Frequency, i.e., proportionality.
If we compare the percentage of the African-American population in Minneapolis, which is about 18 percent, and the African-American population of the Minneapolis Police Department, which is 8.2 percent, we can see that these two values are not the same. This fact is obvious, but this fact acts as a measuring tape. What do we make of this measurement?
African-Americans still have a way to go to achieve a reasonable representation in the Minneapolis Police Department if representation is indeed defined as the “black” percentage of the city is equal to that of the “black” percentage of the police department. But here’s a caveat. What is meant by representation?
Does it mean approximately 18 percent? Does it mean more “black” officers in predominantly “black” neighborhoods in North Minneapolis? Does it mean greater access and opportunity for African American residents to become police officers in Minneapolis? Or does it mean a combination of the three possible policy applications?
Unfortunately, mathematics can not answer this question. This is a subjective question based off of society’s current moral and philosophical positions and norms.
For much of Minneapolis’ history, this question was not even considered, nor did the dominant group, “whites,” even care. But today’s morals are not yesterday’s morals. Today this question is not only being asked and considered by leaders in law enforcement and government, but it is also being asked and considered by those in industry, business, and the citizenry in general.
Time will tell. But if history is our guide, then the 8.2 percent may lend a hint. If one considers the decades since the 1880’s, the moral arc is not only bending towards justice, but it is bending towards equality in representation and equity in self-determination. This is, for example, because “black” officers weren’t allowed to arrest “white” citizens until the 1930’s.
But that is a world far removed from today and many citizens of Minneapolis, including this author, are looking for a world far removed from today; and the statistics are just a measure of where Minneapolis currently is on the tape of time.
For further exploration of criminal justice in Minneapolis, see Analyzing a Crime Pattern of a General System.
**Remember, there is nothing more American than discourse. You are always welcome to post your comments, thoughts, and questions below. Feedback is always appreciated!