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Police force diversity

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06/25/2015 - In the early morning hours of July 23, 1967, a group of about 80 black people were celebrating the return of soldiers from Vietnam at a blind pig at 12th Street, now Rosa Parks Boulevard, and Clairmont Street in Detroit, when a predominantly white police force raided the club. What ensued after was a five-day riot that spread through Detroit, leaving 43 people dead, 1,189 injured, and more than 2,000 buildings destroyed.

The events leading to the 1967 riot can't be attributed to that single incident, and the riot was hardly the first of its kind in Detroit. Race riots also marred the city in 1943 and 1863, the latter of which led to the creation of a full-time police department in the city. Yet in 1967, about 93 percent of the Detroit Police Department were white males in a city where about 33 percent of its population was African American. And, while the department and attitudes have evolved during the course of recent history, many police departments across the nation are hardly representative of the communities they serve, including several in Michigan and Oakland County.

Today, law enforcement agencies across the country, state and county are striving to increase the number of officers belonging to minority groups. However, recruiting, hiring and retaining diverse candidates can be a challenge, according to local police chiefs and the Oakland County Sheriff's Office. In addition to strong candidates from minority or ethnic groups, police departments also face challenges in recruiting women. The issue is now one that is being discussed at a national level and among academic leaders at the state's universities.

Brad Smith, interim chair of Wayne State University's Department of Criminal Justice, said having diversity amongst law enforcement serves to benefit both departments and the public in general.

"In a democratic society, the police should be representative of the people that they serve. It brings a variety of unique perspectives, and they can connect with people of different backgrounds," Smith said. "Whether it's racial or ethnic diversity or male-female, most of our departments are not very diverse. Most of our departments are dominated by men, and white men."

In terms of female police, about one in eight police officers across the nation are female, including about one in 10 first-line supervisors, according to a 2013 survey conducted by the U.S. Department of Justice's Bureau of Justice Statistics. The study, which was published in May 2015, includes the most recent figures available on local police department personnel, policies and practices.

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