UTPD, APD emphasize diversity in police force

Natalie Sullivan

While some major cities have relatively high disparities between the racial makeup of their police forces and the surrounding community, APD’s demographics closely reflect those of Austin, according to APD community survey statistics.  

A 2011 demographic survey shows APD’s total sworn personnel are approximately 69 percent white, 9 percent black, 21 percent Hispanic or Latino and 1 percent Asian. 

The most comprehensive demographic data for Austin, taken in the 2010 census, said Austin is 68.3 percent white, 8.1 percent black, 35.1 percent Hispanic or Latino and 6.3 percent Asian. The survey allowed participants to identify as multiple races.

APD Sgt. Gizette Gaslin said APD believes having a police force demographically similar to the community is essential to good policing.

“We always try to represent the people we serve, so we try to mirror the demographics of Austin as closely as we can,” Gaslin said. “When people have issues, I think they really respond to people like them, so we try to hire a wide range of people, especially women, in the department.”

While UTPD did not provide the specific demographics of its police force, UTPD spokeswoman Cindy Posey said a variety of different techniques are used to promote diversity in the hiring process, including attending minority job fairs and going to different regions of Texas to recruit people.  

“UTPD hires qualified applicants and continuously seeks out both traditional and non-traditional venues where qualified candidates from all backgrounds might be recruited,” Posey said in an email.

A 2007 government survey of police departments found police forces across the country have a higher percentage of white officers than the communities they serve — the percentage of white officers was up to 30 percentage points higher in some areas. According to the survey, minorities make up about a quarter of police forces.

Posey said UTPD recently renewed its emphasis on diversity, particularly after events in Ferguson, Missouri, highlighted racial tensions between police and citizens. 

“The new UTPD vision, instituted upon Chief Carter’s arrival, is to be respected and trusted by all members of UT’s diverse community,” Posey said. “Lack of diversity can present the appearance of not understanding the culture, history and potential concerns of any given community. Such perceptions will certainly make it harder for a police department to gain the respect and trust vitally needed to keep a community safe. Clearly recent events in the Midwest have borne this out.” 

Posey said diversity in UTPD’s operations allows it to better to protect the campus community.

“UTPD sees diversity as strength and as a better opportunity to accomplish our mission: To keep you, our UT community, safe,” Posey said.