Law enforcement diversity can lessen policing disparities, but SoCal has room to improve, data show

In Orange County, 38% of police officers are people of color, but about 59% of the population are people of color.

ByCarlos Granda and Grace Manthey KABC logo
Wednesday, May 19, 2021
Diversity among police in SoCal has room to improve
Across Orange County, 38% of police officers are people of color, but about 59% of the population are people of color, according to an ABC7 analysis of Census data. Experts say diversity is key in improving community relationships with police.

BREA, Calif. (KABC) -- LaMarr Tinnin wanted to be a police officer when he was just a toddler.

But he said as he grew up in North Carolina, he started to experience racism at the hands of police.

Tinnin said police would pull him over for no reason and harass him.

"And I had an older relative of mine, he said, 'Well, the best way to fix that is become one of them, and change it like that,'" Tinnin said. "And that's what I did."

Now, Tinnin is the Homeless Liaison Officer at the Brea Police Department in Orange County. He said when he goes out to encampments, people seem to relate to him a little more.

"I don't know if that's from my demeanor, or the color of my skin. But I do know that when I deal with them, they end up being a little more relaxed," he said.

Tinnin said people seem happy to see an officer of color that they feel they can relate to.


Cpl. Ryan Tillman from the Chino Police Department in San Bernardino County said on an importance scale of one to 10, (one being the least important, 10 being the most important issues police departments must face) diversity among officers is about an eight.

"If I go to deal with somebody that's in the minority community, and I can relate to them, because we're the same race, then that's going to automatically de-escalation a lot faster, as opposed to somebody that can't relate," Tillman said.

Studies and data show that diversity among peace officers lessens racial disparities in policing.

A study by Stephan Wu, a professor of economics at Hamilton College, found that rates of officers shooting and killing people were almost 50% higher in cities with police forces led by white police chiefs than cities with black police chiefs.

According to an ABC7 analysis of 2019 FBI arrest data, across the largest 100 metro areas in the United States, police forces with a larger population of people of color had smaller racial disparities in arrests.

In metros where just 10% of police officers were people of color, Black people were about five times as likely to be arrested as white people. In metros where at least half of police officers were people of color, Black people were only about twice as likely to be arrested as white people.

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A study looking at policing data from Chicago found that relative to white officers, Black and Hispanic officers made fewer stops and arrests and they used force less often, especially against Black people.

Learn more: Explore the Equity Report.


Diversity among police officers across Southern California isn't as reflective of the community as it could be.

In Orange County, about 62% of police officers are white, but just 41% of the population is white. About 38% of police officers are people of color, but about 59% of the population are people of color, according to an ABC7 Eyewitness News analysis of data from the U.S. Census Bureau's 2018 Equal Employment Opportunity Tabulation.

That's poorer representation than other Southern California counties. In Los Angeles County, for example, about 68% of police officers are people of color, compared to 74% of the population.

In Riverside County, about 50% of its police officers are people of color and 65% of the population are people of color.

In Southern California counties, Census data show the biggest gaps in racial diversity are within the Latino and Asian populations.

In Orange County, for example, 22% of police officers are Latino, and 34% of the population is Latino. About 11% of police officers are Asian and 20% of the population is Asian.

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The Brea Police Department, where Tinnin is the homeless liaison officer, seems to reflect their community better than some other agencies, within Orange County.

In the Brea PD, about 48% of officers are people of color, and about 58% of the population are people of color.

The biggest area where Brea PD seems to be lacking in diversity is among the Asian population, which make up about 10% of their officers but 22% of the population.

Brea PD Professional Standards Lieutenant, Philip Rodriguez said they were happy with the numbers, but still acknowledged they weren't perfect and there was work to do.

Some other agencies don't reflect their communities as well.

The Anaheim Police Department, for example, has just 40% police officers of color. In the city of Anaheim, about 76% of the population are people of color.

Anaheim PD Public Information Officer, Sgt. Shane Carringer said in a statement that his department "strives to provide exceptional public safety service to our community and we pride ourselves in being an inclusive organization."

"We hire the most qualified candidates based on a stringent hiring process that identifies our prospective police officers based on knowledge, skills and abilities. Simply stated, we hire the most qualified candidates who test to become Anaheim Police Officers. The Anaheim Police Department is a leader in investing in our community's youth. The goal of our cadet and explorer programs, various community outreach events, and the Anaheim Public Safety Pipeline is to inspire the Anaheim youth of today, to be the next generation of Anaheim Police Officers," Carringer's statement said.

He said the department continues to "be inclusive in our recruiting efforts as we continue to work collaboratively with our community," and encouraged anyone interested in applying to visit their website.

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A handful of agencies in Orange County don't even collect racial diversity information. Of the 22 agencies ABC7 contacted for diversity data, four of them said they do not collect racial demographics for their officers - Newport Beach, Costa Mesa, Laguna Beach and Seal Beach Police Departments. (Others did not respond in time for publication.)

These agencies did not give a reason for not tracking these numbers, though some said they didn't have the data because it wasn't tracked by their city's human resources department.

Not tracking diversity is a problem, according to Timothy T. Williams, Jr., a police procedure and practices, use of force and wrongful conviction expert, and a former LAPD detective. He said police chiefs should have that information on the tip of their tongue.

"You see, if I can't give that information, I'm not doing my job as a CEO," he said. "That's bad leadership, super bad leadership."

Because, he said, if there is a problem with the makeup of a department, they should know about it so they can correct the problem.

"So how can they correct something they don't know nothing about?" he said.

About 44% of Chino PD's sworn officers are people of color, but about 76% of the population are people of color.

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Even so, Tillman said it's an improvement.

"If you look back years and years ago in the city that I work in, it was nowhere near as diverse," Tillman said.

"So, I think we are way more reflective of community than we used to be. But can we always get better? I think we can always get better with diversifying the workplace," he said.

But getting minorities to want to become police officers isn't easy, Tillman said.

"It's a difficulty because the reception of law enforcement amongst the minority community is not a good one," he said.


Tillman said he was one of those minorities who didn't like police because of bad experiences with them. He said it's "ironic" that he became a police officer at all.

In an effort to make future generations have a better experience than him, Tillman created Breaking Barriers United, an organization that tries to bridge the gap between law enforcement and the community through workshops and diversity programs with students, teachers and police departments.

"I've had so many different 'wow' moments, and saw the need of why we need people that look like the communities that we serve," he said. "That motivated me to go out there and try to diversify our workplaces just because it truly matters, it truly does matter."

California Senator Anthony Portantino agrees. He created a bill, SB-387, also called the LEARN Act. The bill's original purpose was to improve and increase curriculum requirements for police officers and set up recruitment programs to increase diversity across departments in the state.

But, the recruitment parts of the bill were taken out.

"I do believe the bill is stronger with the diversity component and with the outreach component," he said.

Having a police force that reflects the community is a good goal, and Portantino said he was disappointed when some of his colleagues opposed that "very sensible piece in the bill," because they thought no one should be recruited to be a police officer.

"It's a stronger bill and better aligned with national efforts on police reform and national efforts to diversify police forces, with that in there. "We're hopeful that in the next year, we can bring that back," he said.

Police expert, Williams, said this isn't new. He said change through legislation is like watching a tennis match. Bills get changed and reintroduced, "then after a while the ball is gonna leave the court," he said.

"But we have an opportunity to make...meaningful reform," he said. "But it takes time, reform is not gonna happen overnight."


Meaningful reform, Williams said, means getting the right people into law enforcement. He said that matters even more than diversity, which is critical.

"You've got to have managers who will not ratify bad conduct. You got to have managers who will who will call balls and strikes," Williams said.

It's also about core values, something the academy can't teach you, he said.

"LAPD didn't teach me any of my core values. My mother and father gave me my core values. I came into the department with my core values," he said.

He explained these values were about reverence for life, compassion, a commitment to treating one another with respect.

"If you don't have that. No, thank you for applying," he said.

Dr. Stephan Wu, the author of the study out of Hamilton College, said leaders are important in determining culture "from the very top."

"It's one thing to have diversity in the force. And I think that's an important thing, and there's research that's shown that's important, but I would say that even on top of that, leaders still matter, that whoever is at the top is really setting an agenda," Wu said.

There is a balance to diversifying police forces, according to Ryan Tillman from Chino PD and Breaking Barriers United.

"If you're somebody that says we shouldn't be diversifying the workplace, or there's not a need, or we created that, you're wrong," he said.

But, he also acknowledged that police departments have to find the most qualified candidates.

"I think sometimes people don't know how to do that balancing act. I think it's okay to say we need more African Americans in a profession, but it's not okay to just say we're gonna go out and hire anybody in the African American community if they're not qualified," Tillman said.

The said he likes to compare the best officers to animals like lions.

"The quality that that lion possesses is a quality that officers need to possess, which I like to refer to as being meek, which is strength under control," he said.

"So, the officers that go out there looking for the fights or are trying to stir the pot so they can get in a fight, those are the people that we need to get rid of in our profession," he said.

LaMarr Tinnin, Homeless Liaison Officer at the Brea Police Department, said it's all about recruiting and making people feel welcome.

"I just think when they put it out there, and they are looking to balance things is easier to put it out there and like, 'you know what we really need, say, Hispanic females.' Well, I think you're gonna get a lot of qualified Hispanic females applying in that position, because they want it. And out of that group, you're gonna get a good person," Tinnin said.

For Tinnin, change in policing, both in terms of diversity and beyond, will come from conversations and listening.

"If you have two sides that voice their opinions, and they don't talk to each other, then nothing's gonna happen," he said.

Tinnin said he's dealt with racism since he was little, especially growing up in the South.

"Being a police officer, sometimes I will get it from both sides," he said. "Either, you know, I'm a sellout, or someone doesn't like me because of the color of my skin."

Tillman had a similar sentiment. He said he encourages people to see the struggles, specifically the mental health struggles, that police officers go through.

"But if you're an officer, you also have to understand the side of the community, especially the side of minority community and why they feel the way they do and the history behind all of that," he said. "If you can start to see the other side's point, the other person's point of view. I think there's healing in that and once we do that, I think we can heal as a nation."

Note: A previous version of this story said the Chino Police Department was in Riverside County instead of San Bernardino County. This has been corrected.