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Diversity In Law Enforcement: SFJ’s Conscious Law Enforcement Forum Series

Strategies for Justice Logo

Written by Elinor A. McNeel.

The topic of today is Diversity in Law Enforcement!

Each guest panelists are representatives of a Law Enforcement organization that looks at providing equity within and outside of law enforcement. We will discuss what challenges are faced in the police force as a result of your race, gender, and/or sexual orientation but, most importantly, what needs to change in order for those challenges to be addressed. Each panelist will provide what their organization does to address the need for recruitment, retention, and promotion in law enforcement.

Recording available until March 22, 2021.

If you watch the recording, please complete the evaluation.


The Panelist

Picture of Kathy Caldwell with the Gay Office Action League logo.
Officer Kathy Caldwell

Kathy Caldwell (Co-chair for the LGBTQ Hall of Fame; Treasurer for the Gay Officer Action League) The group’s original purpose is to provide support for gay and lesbian police officers, who were mostly closeted at the time. The LGPA is dedicated to promoting solidarity and upholding Human Rights, providing support and social interaction for its members, and promoting understanding between the police and Chicago’s LGBT communities through education, communication, and charitable acts. The Gay Officers Action League (GOAL) was brought to Illinois from New York in 1995. In 2005, the original LGPA merged with GOAL; since then, the combined organization has been known as the Lesbian and Gay Police Association–Gay Officers Action League. The move opened up membership to firefighters, public safety officers, and associate members, benefiting the organization by improving infrastructure, expanding support, and affording cooperation with outside agencies.

Picture of Kym Craven with the National Association of Women Law Enforcement Executives logo
Kym Craven, Executive Director (NAWLEE)

Kym Craven (National Association of Women Law Enforcement Executives) (NAWLEE) is the first organization established to address the unique needs of women holding senior management positions in law enforcement. The general purpose and mission of the National Association Women Law Enforcement Executives, Inc. is to promote the ideals and principles of women executives in law enforcement; to conduct training seminars, and educate women executives in law enforcement, including but not limited to the areas of leadership, mentoring opportunities, management, and administration; to provide a forum for the exchange of information concerning law enforcement, and generally fostering effective law enforcement.

Picture of President Lynda Williams with the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives logo
President Lynda Williams (NOBLE)

President, Lynda Williams (Justice By Action) National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives (NOBLE) serves as the conscience of law enforcement by being committed to justice by action. The organization has nearly 60 chapters and represents over 3,000 members worldwide that represent chief executive officers and command-level law enforcement officials from federal, state, county, municipal law enforcement agencies, and criminal justice practitioners. Their mission is to ensure equity in the administration of justice in the provision of public service to all communities and to serve as the conscience of law enforcement by being committed to justice by action.

Picture of Iris Richardson
Iris Richardson, Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, Penn State University Police and Public Safety

Moderated by: Iris Richardson, Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, Penn State University Police and Public Safety


The Forum

Diversity in law enforcement is important because it enables the police force to look more like the community it serves and therefore be more relatable to community members. In addition, job satisfaction is higher for the officers themselves in a diverse police force. Recruiting and maintaining a diverse police force is difficult, partly because the shifts are long, especially in the early years, the job is 24/7, and there is little flexibility in scheduling. This process is particularly difficult in the current climate because many people have a negative view of police and the unrest across the country has increased the burden on police officers. Addressing these challenges requires re-imaging policing which involves in part, increasing transparency and accountability. Recruitment policies must be intentional and mandated from the highest levels.

The National Organization of Black Law Enforcement’s mission is to ensure equity in the administration of justice in providing public service to all communities; they serve as the conscience of law enforcement by being committed to justice by action. They view recruiting as a strategic business practice – there must be a strategy, i.e., partnering with organizations such as the National Association of Women Law Enforcement Executives (NAWLEE), social groups and women’s colleges.

Helpful strategies also include mentoring at all levels during the application process, i.e., providing training, and offering opportunities for officers to converse with, and support each other at conferences and through other programs. The National Organization of Black Law Enforcement (NOBLE), offers leadership training. They partner with several federal agencies as well as historically black colleges and universities as they stress the lack of diversity with applicants coming into the program. Qualified applicants are mentored throughout the program and evaluated for assurance so as not to fall short and be disqualified.

The National Association of Women Law Enforcement Executives (NAWLEE) stands by the motto, “Lead and Mentor.” Their primary goal is reaching out across the room making women feel comfortable in their profession, and giving them the opportunity to ask questions, and generally supporting them in their careers. This organization is involved in a program with RTI on research for women in policing, one of the magical steps agencies can take to recruit and retain women.

In order to increase diversity within law enforcement organizations, knowing the difference between being invited and being included is paramount. Recruiting and retention takes more than just bringing people to your organization or listening to a speaker, it takes getting them involved; have community members sit in on your interviews; show them you would like them to become a part of your police organization; start with small steps. If your community lacks diversity, reach out to faith-based communities. Also, reach out to LGBTQ plus communities so as to offer someone the opportunity to make a change, one they would like to see in policing. Also, there are incentive programs used for recruiting and retention. NOBLE has a budget-based program, when police officers sign up for a three (3) year period the first five (5) or ten (10) thousand dollars in tuition costs goes towards their college education; each additional year the dollar amount increases.

When speaking of promotions, officers want to see transparency regarding the opportunities available to them. They must have a clear understanding of what it takes moving forward, and the competitive measures that lay ahead in the process. One panelist stated, we have to strive to create a sense of belonging and give recognition to those who are on a mission to create safe communities. Everyone has the ability to contribute to the success of policing in a way that is accountable, transparent, and inclusive to the community. Promotions can be a sticky subject regarding the unions and guilds across the country, but the opportunity to become successful should be available to everyone. Career development training, physical fitness, and making sure there is a wellness component with the right equipment to handle the number of officer suicides occurring lately; the opportunity to engage in conversations regarding healthy eating, and emotional health in order to maintain a healthy perspective on the profession, should be a part of the pathway moving forward in all organizations.

In reference to sexual victimization, officers are often hesitant in reporting any type of sexual harassment due to the possibility of being retaliated against. They must understand that there is no tolerance, and also there are consequences for this type of behavior.

Policy and procedural training are paramount in law enforcement when it pertains to the disabled. Experience and education are also a large part of knowing how to approach persons with different disabilities, mental health, and substance abuse problems. Community engagement and partnerships from law enforcement organizations help service these areas. When providing services to diverse groups of a community, officers must remember they are human beings. People want to be respected and not dehumanized when law enforcement is called upon to assist in matters relating to these areas.


The Goals

Each panelist was sent the following points that we were asking them to address during this forum.

  • What challenges have you faced on the police force as a result of your race, gender, and/or sexual orientation?

  • What changes are needed to address those challenges?

  • How does your organization address those needs?


The Questions

Each person who registered was allowed to submit questions prior to the form. We will look at the questions asked and try to bring them into our symposium in April.

  1. Do you think departments hiring so many veterans who may have PTSD or an "us versus them" mindset is helping or hurting the reputation of police across the country?

  2. Local law enforcement recruitment efforts include a variety of media services. What kinds of checks and balances are in place to make sure that there are wide-ranging messages to include LGBT, racial groups, and women?

  3. Do you believe re-allocating funding (perhaps away from purchasing the military surplus items) to provide more emergency mental health counselors who can respond to calls pertaining to mental health crises would improve community relations between police and their communities?

  4. How do you recruit minorities so that your department represents your community if you currently have no minorities in the small department (44 sworn), and are on the low end of the competition when it comes to pay for your area?

  5. In the past, there have been short but effective but campaigns to increase diversity in law enforcement, be it for women and/or for minorities. What do you feel will be the long-term solution to help create lasting, effective change in creating true diversity in the industry and at all levels within the ranks?

  6. What strategies can be implemented to create safe spaces for law enforcement to explore personal bias?

  7. As members of law enforcement and as African American individuals, how does one address the duties of policing with fairness and objectivity and still be empathetic to the experiences of the African American community without backlash from professional peers and being able to engage with your own community and not have them see you as the enemy?

  8. What can be done to help officers who cross the thin blue line report misconduct? It seems far too often those officers are treated as traitors and are either fired or treated so poorly they finally quit.

  9. An International Association of Chiefs of Police report also emphasized the fact women typically possess better communication skills and are more empathetic than men. Does a lack of female officers affect how female victims in general, and more specifically, victims who are women of color, are viewed and treated by the criminal justice system?

  10. Does a lack of gender diversity in law enforcement potentially pose a public safety danger in general, and what can community organizations and individuals do to encourage/pressure departments and city officials to hire, value, and help develop female officers for advancement?

  11. What makes law enforcement departments believe they are prepared for hiring people of color when there is overwhelming evidence that law enforcement continues to subject fellow officers, women and people of color specifically as well as citizens to acts of brutality?

  12. I think requiring law enforcement personnel to spend time with persons who are intellectually disabled/neuro-diverse would increase their empathy and awareness of invisible disabilities. What do you think?

  13. What efforts do you see being made to improve the emotional intelligence of officers?

  14. How can we get law enforcement to hold internal discussions about the connection between National and local issues that directly impact their ability to recruit and retain a diverse workforce?

  15. What would you describe as your best practices/strategies for enhancing diversity and inclusion within the law enforcement community?

  16. As leaders and mentors within the law enforcement community, what advice would you offer to a law enforcement member about entering the leadership ranks?

  17. Could you speak on the revictimization of female officers when they choose to report sexual misconduct (assault, harassment, etc.), which oftentimes plays in their hesitancy to come forward?

  18. Which countries are police officers facing discrimination according to their race or sexual orientation? What kind of rules can be used to protect diversity in law enforcement organizations?

  19. A recent article in Police Chief magazine noted how stereotypes of women being physically weak or too emotional often create a devaluation of qualities women have been shown statistically to possess, such as better communication skills and empathy as noted in an International Association of Chiefs of Police report. Does a lack of female officers affect how female victims in general, and more specifically, victims who are women of color, are viewed and treated by the criminal justice system? And does a lack of gender diversity in law enforcement potentially pose a public safety danger in general?

  20. How does law enforcement investigate complaints or charges involving bias?

  21. What do women bring to law enforcement that enables their male colleagues to better serve and protect their communities?

  22. Not only how do agencies recruit and hire the best people from diverse backgrounds, but how do we retain, mentor, and develop them for leadership positions?

  23. Over the past few years, research has indicated implicit and explicit bias training is needed in police departments. How do we get current employees to buy in and recognize this is important training, as well as, cultivating an internal culture to combat the effect of unconscious racial bias so that it does not affect how police enforce the law?

  24. What are some of the barriers agencies need to overcome or lookout for to address barriers of diversity in their department? What are some practices that provide for an inclusive culture at an agency that in turn provides for greater racial and gender diversity?

  25. Do you think the shift in verbiage from "peace officer" to "law enFORCEment" is helpful in shaping the goals and actions of police?

  26. I am the son of a retired NYPD detective and it has taken him 20 years to heal from the extraordinary challenges and traumas of the job. I am wondering how you mentor younger officers as well as fellow officers when it comes to mental well-being?

  27. What are the best strategies to strengthen the relationship between the police and minorities?

  28. What are some of the barriers to good police-community relations, and what steps can be taken to eliminate them?

  29. What kinds of skills do police and community leaders need to have to make community policing work?

  30. Do you think there are significant differences in the way police interact with minorities and non-minorities? If so, what accounts for them? Regarding the recent incidents in Ferguson and New York, did the police officers follow standard procedures?

  31. Should cultural competency training be a required component of police training? If yes, should this be mandated by the state or left to individual police departments?


The Participants

We had 284 RSVP for this event, and analytics showed that we had 337 attendees with 97 attending the full forum live. Data analytics also showed that we had over 100 different police departments represented.

Participants were asked to select any that applied to them.

Picture of the breakdown of our participants.
Participant breakdown

Participant breakdown:

Community-Based Organization 24 out of 284

Educational Institution 59 out of 284

Faith-Based Organization 7 out of 284

Law Enforcement 203 out of 284

Mental Health Counselor 5 out of 284

Social Justice Advocacy 37 out of 284

At the opening, Mr. Watson explained the challenges the panelists would be addressing; recruiting, retaining, and promoting in a diverse police force, and more importantly how each one of their organizations addresses these challenges. We are looking forward to the advice our panelists can give us on building a sense of belonging in order to enhance diversity and inclusion amongst law enforcement professionals. Tonight’s conversation will address the nature of belonging, and we are counting on you the viewers to ask meaningful questions to our panelists. He requested the audience and listeners continue this conversation beyond tonight and encouraged them to join our diversifying law enforcement group. In this group, you will be allowed to share ideas, resources and continue tonight's discussion. After the discussion we ask that you complete our online evaluation, it will be sent to you via email and a link will be posted to the evaluation in the chatbox. And lastly, do not forget to register for our Symposium on Conscious Law Enforcement and Inclusive Practices in April. If you selected to receive more information or noted that you would like to attend in your registration for this forum, please look out for the email; registration will open next week.


Final Impressions

Recruiting and maintaining a diverse police force is a daunting challenge. But it can be done with some creativity and imagination. Key strategies include intentional recruiting from within the community, possibly within organizations that have not been recruited from before, and mentoring and supporting officers from minority communities throughout their careers.

Lastly, here’s the message to America from our panelist.

Kathy Caldwell’s Message to America

"I just want to say, to me I believe that education and training is a very important piece of this policing. Without the education and knowledge that we should give our police officers learning the community and learning how it is to be a peacemaker. I think more training would help our officers and help them understand the multicultural implementation and the strategies that's behind it so culture and diversity is a fact of life and it's always going to be there. So, I think that to expand our training and education within law enforcement and within our diverse communities, we can lead the way to demonstrating to others a more professional diverse policing strategy and it would help the community understand policing and help us unite together. "

After watching Kathy’s message, what did you take away from it?

Kym Craven’s Message to America

"It's really hard to give a message that will resonate with everyone, so I really want to focus on the police organizations that are committed to changing their operations and enhancing diversity within their organizations and my advice to those organizations and the message is think beyond where we are now stop feeding into the status quo and really think about what policing could be. I’ve had the fortune to represent NAWLEE with a group on reimagining policing that's had several meetings over the past few years and even beyond the complications of this past year and the incidences that have brought forth many conversations on social justice."

"This group was really thinking about how policing could present itself differently, what accommodations do we need to make to get people interested in the field. Think beyond the parameters that our organizations have been operating in; open the doors to a different way of thinking; invite the community in not just in a public relations way but in a way that is really meaningful for community members to give input on what they want their police organization to look like, and be flexible. Push the parameters of how with pigeonholed policing to be and think about the possibilities for the future and with that I would ask our communities to give your police organizations a chance so those of you that are in the research world, if you can facilitate conversations, if you can bring information about that would help communities sit at the table with their police officers and have really meaningful discussions about how to move forward and really stay on a track of being intentional and strategic about how you're bringing people into your police organization. Rethink your recruiting strategies, rethink your application, rethink what you're giving extra points for, it might look really different than it does now but it can reframe how our police organizations operate into the future."

After watching Kym’s message, what did you take away from it?

Lynda R. Williams’ Message to America

"One of my agenda items was reimaging public safety in this hypocrisy of democracy that we live in now. America is supposed to be home of the free and equal opportunity but we see that that's not being played out as we see it over and over in high definition. If we reimagining law enforcement, and know that law enforcement is here to serve and our extension of the communities and even with the assets that they've been given and to partner with other agencies for mental health for homelessness for drugs for a myriad of things that police are not proficient in but again when we reimagine law enforcement that everybody has that mutual respect of one another that the law enforcement are here to protect and serve and not to come to destroy or conquer and this comes by all the national legislation that NOBLE pushes and that's on the table now that we see are going to so many agencies and that's that this world and this country is calling for accountability; they're calling for transparency until we can trust each other we still have a hill to climb but we have to have that accountability and transparency and look at the way that we have been doing law enforcement and policing and learn from those mistakes and from those things that we know better we will do better but only until we acknowledge where we are and what we're going to do will the world be better and that we can really reimagine public safety as it was intended to be."

After watching Lynda’s message, what did you take away from it?


The Evaluation and feedback

We had 25 participants complete the evaluation. The data is below.

Are you Law Enforcement?



For the following questions, participants were given the following choices to choose from:

  • Exceeded Expectations,

  • Met Expectations,

  • Partially Met Expectations,

  • Did Not Meet Expectations,

  • Not Applicable

Q1: Adherence of program to its publicized content

This content can be found in the program's description

Exceeded Expectations 3

Met Expectations 16

Partially Met Expectations 6

For the following questions, participants were given the following choices to choose from:

  • Agree

  • Somewhat agree

  • Somewhat disagree

  • Disagree

Q2: Knowledge attained

My knowledge of the challenges faced by minoritized law enforcement officers as it pertains to recruitment, retention, and promotion has expanded because of attending this program.

Agree 14

Somewhat agree 9

Somewhat disagree 2

Q3: Application for addressing challenges

I came away from this forum with ideas for addressing challenges faced by minoritized law enforcement officers

Agree 15

Somewhat agree 9

Somewhat disagree 1

Q4: Application for enhancing diversity in law enforcement

After attending this session, I have ideas for how to diversify law enforcement through recruitment, retention, and promotion.

Agree 12

Somewhat agree 12

Somewhat disagree 1

Q5: The program was worth the investment of my time.

Agree 18

Somewhat Agree 7

Q6: The amount of time allotted for this program was appropriate.

Agree 20

Somewhat Agree 5

Q7: Overall I was satisfied with the quality of this program.

Agree 18

Somewhat Agree 7

Q8: I would recommend this program to others.

Agree 19

Somewhat Agree 6

Please list any additional comments that you would like to make about the program content

  • I feel the subject matter was very timely. I would like it to have gone even deeper. With three panelists, I feel two hours would have provided a deeper level of shared information.

  • Very informative and engaging panel with tangible examples of how to apply the material presented.

  • One minority group not discussed during the program in regards to recruitment and retention is that of potential applicants who have a pre-existing medical condition who have traditionally been discouraged from a career in law enforcement or told not to admit to having one if they want to work in the criminal justice field. This has become the new "don't ask, don't tell" of policing.

  • The program was very informative for agencies who are looking to recruit and retain more women and minorities. This happens to be my area of expertise. The panel touched on several excellent ideas including but not limited to mentorship programs and pre-exams prior to the actual exam date as well as attending community/cultural events. I think the Explorer Cadet programs are also another way to recruit candidates who have been groomed for this career path from an early age.

  • This was a good start for a topic that needs much more discussion. I was hoping to hear more about how to address hiring when faced with civil service rules that govern some department hiring processes.

  • Thank you for providing this opportunity. We don't know what we don't know. I feel better prepared and more informed on this subject.

  • This was my first program like this online. I think the moderator did a good job and so did most of the panelists.

  • During a panel discussion, I don't feel like each panel member needs to answer each question as often it leads to two people having the same response. I prefer when each issue is addressed by some or even just one member who has expertise.

  • The content was on point. Well delivered.

  • I would like to see a longer program.

  • Great Program with Knowledgeable Presenters!

  • Women in law enforcement has been a goal of the Village of Interlaken police dept. Still an unmet goal tho we're waiting to create an opportunity.

  • Would have liked to taken away best practices for recruiting and retention examples to take to my department. I want to diversify my department but didn't really get any plans of what to do.

Please list any other comments you would like to share about this program:

  • I enjoyed and appreciate the responses from the panelists. I was particularly impressed with the responses Lynda R. Williams and her confidence.

  • Thank you for this timely program!

  • Appreciated the recognition that the hiring process for a job in law enforcement is more akin to a purposeful elimination process resulting in the hiring of the applicant(s) who managed to survive it and not necessarily the applicants that could best benefit the organization if hired.

  • Clearly recruiting anyone into the profession these days has it’s challenges. Personally, you couldn’t pay me a million dollars a year to do the job anymore. I’m just so grateful that there are people who are still willing to answer the call.

  • I thought it was a good discussion and I took away some new thoughts and ideas. I specifically found the discussion concerning mentoring vs. field training, enlightening.

  • The panel was knowledgeable and was able to articulate the point they were making. Job well done.

  • "The following article in GQ Magazine highlights the City of Ithaca policing issues.


  • Great speakers. Very knowledgeable.


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