Do Valley law enforcement agencies reflect diversity of their communities?

A look at how department demographics compare to the people they serve.

Jessica Harrington Image
Tuesday, May 18, 2021
Do Valley law enforcement agencies reflect diversity of their communities?
We take a look inside Central Valley law enforcement agencies to see how the departments' demographics compare to the people they serve.

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- The data shows that many agencies don't match the populations they serve perfectly, but local law enforcement officials and experts explain while representation matters within a department, they don't think it should be the only defining factor of how they do as an agency.

In Madera County, 57% of people identify as Latino, 34% identify as White, according to the most recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

In comparison, the most recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau Equal Employment Opportunity which is from 2018 shows across all agencies in Madera County, 94% of peace officers are white while 6% are Latino.

Only Nevada and Lake counties statewide had a higher percentage of white police officers.

"The cops being all white here makes it very difficult for people who are just trying to live their life on a daily basis," said Angel Hernandez, who has lived in Madera her whole life.

She said she'd like to see more officers who look like her because she believes they would be able to better understand her.

Mickey Johnson and his wife, Stefani, have also lived in Madera most of their lives. They believe the color of an officer's skin does not define how they police.

"I think skill and how they use their weapons should be first and foremost on any police officer, no matter what color," said Stefani Johnson.

We wanted to see if the makeup of officers has changed since 2018, so we took a closer look at Madera County Sheriff's Office and Madera Police Department.

According to current data from the City of Madera, at the Madera Police Department, 61% of officers are white, 36% are Hispanic or Latino and 3% percent are another ethnicity.

"In a perfect world, I wish I could just go out and hire anybody at all," said Madera Police Chief Dino Lawson.

Chief Lawson said fewer people want to become officers these days.

Of those who do, he has to compete with other local agencies such as the Fresno County Sheriff's Office, Fresno Police Department and Clovis Police Department.

With Fresno Police Department and Clovis Police Department offering a $10,000 signing bonus, he said it's hard to convince someone to join his department over theirs.

"How does an agency my size compete with that? Just financially, how do we do that? How do we draw the people in with a shrinking pool? It's impossible," said Chief Lawson.

Madera County Sheriff Tyson Pogue sent the following statement to Action News:

"The Madera County Sheriff's Office values the diverse community we live and work in. Many of our deputies were born and raised in Madera County. While we don't track the ethnic backgrounds of our employees, we believe our deputies are significantly representative of the area we serve, and are well suited to know and understand the needs of our community members.

"It's difficult to reach that particular place because of how organizations develop people to become part of their organization, but it makes a difference to the community," said Ken Magdaleno, the CEO of Center for Leadership, Equity, and Research (CLEAR).

He said law enforcement matching the community they serve is extremely important but says sometimes, the numbers also don't reflect the full story.

"It's not necessarily indicative of a good relationship between the community and the police department," said Magdaleno. "Those are really things that have to be worked on, on a daily basis."

In comparison to Madera County, in Fresno County, Latinos make up 53% of the population and Latino peace officers make up 44% of law enforcement.

That's according to the same U.S. Census Equal Opportunity Occupational data from 2018, which includes the Fresno Police Department, Fresno County Sheriff's Office and several smaller departments.

Taking a look at the two largest agencies in Fresno County, current data shows of the 780 officers in the Fresno Police Department, 40% are Hispanic. At the Fresno County Sheriff's Office, of the 394 deputies, 37% are Hispanic.

"I think we reflect our working population very well in our workforce," said Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims.

Sheriff Mims says they use diverse recruiters to draw in new deputies and adds hiring a diverse deputy pool goes beyond ethnicity.

"Many times, not only do we need the mixture with the ethnicity, but the language speaking skills that people bring to the job," said Sheriff Mims.

Fresno Police Chief Paco Balderrama said making sure officers reflect the community they serve helps build trust.

"When you have a police officer that's taking care of a neighborhood or a specific community and that officer understands the culture, how to communicate the complexities, the struggles of a certain community, it helps us do our job better," said Chief Balderrama.

But Balderrama said it's hard to find Latino and Black men and women who want to become officers.

"Part of it is culture, part of it is just what you see on social media, what you see on the news and so that's why it's important to build trust, be transparent and to get out there in the community and actively recruit," Chief Balderrama said.

Overall, Madera Police Chief Lawson said he hopes people look at characteristics of the officers who serve their communities, not just the makeup of their ethnicities.

"It's the quality of service and are we hiring good officers? Are they doing a good job in the public? That's truly what it is," Chief Lawson said.

The departments said, across the board, there are fewer applicants to become officers. They hope more people will explore law enforcement as a career.

In the meantime, the agencies say they're always looking for creative ways to encourage people to apply.