NJ Police Departments Not Always Representative of Communities

By Michael Hill

The Jersey City Police Department ranks as one of the biggest in the nation and the least representative of the population it serves, according to a study by the data site 538 dot com. The Newark Police Department ranks as the second least representative in the study.

“It confirms what we’ve known for a long time, which is to have a successful police force that’s trusted by the community. To have a police force that’s able to do it’s job protecting the community, you want to have a police force that’s representative of the community,” said ACLU Senior Staff Attorney Alexander Shalom.

Jersey City’s mayor says Jersey City’s police department needs more diversity.

“The data is from 2010. We got on board last year. We recognized there was a problem and we’ve done extensive outreach into the minority community. If you look at the last class we hired, the 40 officers only 11 were white and we’re trying to change the complexion and the diversity proof of the police department and it’s a slow process but we’re doing it,” Mayor Steven Fulop said.

The study re-examined residency requirements for police officers and concluded “our analysis does show that departments with the rule tend to reflect their communities less than departments without it.”

Both Jersey City and Newark have the requirements, with populations that are overwhelmingly diverse.

In Newark, African-Americans and Latinos make up more than 80 percent of the population. In Jersey City, African-Americans, Latinos and Asians account for more than 75 percent of the population. Yet, both police departments are mostly white.

Activists insist residency requirements better serve cities for several reasons, but Jersey City council member and former police officer and recruiter Rich Boggiano says Jersey City should recruit all over the tri-state area.

When asked if he thinks if there was more diversity, there would be better police/community relations, Boggiano said, “No. We ahve to get people that interest in being police officers. Doesn’t matter what they are. As long as they’re interested, they want to help people, they want to do the job and do it correctly, that’s what counts.”

Mayor Fulop says state law requires applicants to live in Jersey City when they test to get in the Police Academy.

“I don’t know if it’s necessarily recruiting outside the city. It’s about some more flexibility on how we hire and reach certain objectives in order to make the city and the department look the same,” he said.

“What we really need is a holistic approach that deals with recruitment, that deals with hiring, that deals with retention. That creates a culture where officers of color want to stay on the force,” Shalom said.

No one from Newark police or the mayor’s office responded to our requests for comment about the study.

The ACLU says if both Jersey City and Newark police want to improve police community relations, they should take note of the study and make some changes.