The shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown by police in Ferguson, Missouri, has drawn attention to racial disparities between the community and law enforcement there. Though Ferguson is mostly African-American, all but a few police officers are white. Ferguson is hardly alone in having that kind of imbalance, including some Northeast Ohio agencies. ideastream's Nick Castele reports.
Euclid has seen a flip-flop in its racial makeup not unlike that of the Saint Louis suburb now in the headlines. Two-thirds of Euclid's population was white 14 years ago. Now, a majority of residents are black.
But on a police force of 92 officers, only five are African-American, according to Euclid Police Chief Tom Brickman. He said those disparities have been reflected in who has taken took the police civil service exam.
"We weren't finding an extremely high number of minority candidates that were interested in becoming police officers," he said. "We would end up with a much higher number of the traditional white male applicant."
Brickman said he wants the demographics of his force to look more like those of the city. He said officers host an athletic league and junior police academy so students consider a career in policing.
Garfield Heights is a majority-white suburb, but the number of African-American residents has doubled since 2000 - now, more than a third of the city is black. Out of 50 police officers, only one is African-American.
Garfield Heights Police Chief Robert Sackett said his city has tried to reach out to potential black applicants.
"We called a couple radio stations that we felt were more aimed at a black audience, and we asked to put promo ads on the air if they could do it," Sackett said, adding that the police also spread word to a large African-American church. "We distributed flyers to a lot of businesses in an area of the city that is predominantly black."
The city just emerged from fiscal emergency last year, and Sackett said it's not hiring cops right now.
Cleveland State University professor Ronnie Dunn said one of the first steps police departments can take to build trust is to demonstrate to residents that they won't be racially profiled.
"I think it begins by trying to improve or take concerted efforts to improve that relationship between the African-American community and policing," Dunn said. "So you have to change the whole perception in the eyes of the community."
We called several suburban police departments to get numbers. We heard back from these two in time to air.