NYT Data: Maple Heights and Garfield Heights Police Departments Have Broadest Race Gap in Region

As the aftermath of Michael Brown's shooting death in Ferguson, Mo., continues to burrow into the national consciousness, a number of racial dynamics have been scrutinized and underscored around the U.S. Because the Ferguson Police Department's officers are 55 percent more white, proportionally, than the predominantly black population of the city, such a difference has played a major role in discussing the shooting and its historical context.

The New York Times takes a look at police departments in and around other major U.S. cities and finds that similar discrepancies abound. Zooming in on greater Cleveland, the NYT report finds that Maple Heights and Garfield Heights boast the widest race gap between their respective police departments and municipal populations. 
Like Ferguson, Mo., Maple Heights went from being mostly white to nearly two-thirds black in the last few decades. But its police force remains unchanged, despite a 1977 affirmative action deal in which the city agreed to hire more minorities. Most of the other police departments in the Cleveland metro area are more closely matched to the populations they serve. 
Most of the other communities profiled are among the whitest in the region, so it's not a huge surprise that their overly white police forces don't raise eyebrows (the Westlakes, the Mentors, etc.). 

“Even if police officers of whatever race enforce the law in relatively the same way, there is a huge image problem with a department that is so out of sync with the racial composition of the local population,” Ronald Weitzer, a sociologist at George Washington University, told the New York Times

The newspaper followed up its Northeast Ohio findings with a visit to Maple Heights. Residents there said that on one level the issue is one of image and credibility, much like Weitzer was pointing out. Others drew a contrast between their city and the more evenly represented Bedford Heights, whose detective Ericka Payne said: “There are definitely differences in the ways the departments interact with the outside community. We try to be a little bit more community oriented. Because we are a little bit more diverse, we understand those dynamics and maybe have a little bit more ease dealing with that.”

The whole Maple Heights report is definitely worth the read. 


Semi-relatedly, NEOMG's Cory Shaffer last month broke down some demographic and contextual differences between the Michael Brown shooting, which of course garnered international attention, and the November 2012 police chase in Cleveland that ended up with 137 bullets being fired at — and killing — two unarmed black civilians. An important point:
About 53 percent of Cleveland's 396,000 residents were black, according to 2010 U.S. Census Bureau data. About 27 percent of the department's sworn officers were black in 2008, according to research conducted by Ronnie Dunn, an associate professor of urban studies at Cleveland State University.

Unlike Ferguson, however, Cleveland's black community has had a voice in City Hall for decades. Voters made Cleveland the first major U.S. city to elect a black mayor, in 1967 with Carl Stokes, and continuing with Michael White and Frank Jackson, two black men who have headed the city for 21 of the last 25 years.

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Eric Sandy

Eric Sandy is an award-winning Cleveland-based journalist. For a while, he was the managing editor of Scene. He now contributes jam band features every now and then.
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