Minority representation in policing: Integrating representative bureaucracy and structural contingency theories



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Scholars, police leaders, lawmakers, and the media have long suggested that a simple way to improve the effectiveness of the police is to increase departmental diversity. This idea is rooted in representative bureaucracy theory, which suggests that organizations that are more representative of their constituents have better outcomes. Relatedly, structural contingency theorists propose that organizational environments influence organizational structure, which in turn influences organizational performance. The current study combines these theories to create a structural contingency model of representative bureaucracy and tests the model within a policing context. Specifically, it is proposed that disparities between women and men, Latinx and White, non-Latinx individuals; and Black and White, non-Latinx individuals within communities impact the percentage of women, Latinx, and Black officers employed by large municipal police departments, and the representation of these groups positively impacts index offense reporting and clearance rates. These propositions are tested using mixed-effects regression models for the analysis of longitudinal data with the population of large municipal police departments in the US from 1987 to 2017. Results provide some support for the structural contingency model of representative bureaucracy. Minority representation in police departments has been increasing over time and is strongly related to the carrying capacity of the environment, but there is little evidence for the individual impact of various measures of disparity. Social disorganization is not an adequate instrumental variable for isolating the reporting rate of crimes using the Uniform Crime Reports. Measures of relative representation perform better than measures of absolute representation for representative bureaucracy theory. The Black relative representation rate was related to significant increases in clearance rates of several index offenses while the Latinx relative representation rate had the opposite effect. The difference is likely due to lower rates of Latinx relative representation in US police departments. There are compelling reasons for increasing the diversity of police departments aside from gains in effectiveness, including increasing citizen trust in the police and preventing the concentration of power in a single demographic group. Police leaders looking to increase the diversity of their departments should implement proactive programs for the recruitment of minority officers.



Representative bureaucracy theory, Structural contingency theory, Policing, Organizations, Minority employment, Crime clearance, Index offenses, Mixed-effects regression models, Longitudinal research, Gender, race, and justice