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How Diversity affects Security and Law Enforcement

Approaching the International Day for Elimination of Racial Discrimination, we want to shed some light onto the topic from the perspective of security and law enforcement teams. Racism is ugly and an abject part of human behaviour. However, in this article, we will not address the moral elements or give our opinion about it. Today we will discuss research results and experiences from around the globe.

Many countries in the World experience tensions between different ethnic groups. Sometimes they are historical rivals in the area, sometimes a majority mistrusts immigrant groups. Sometimes, it is the other way around and post-colonial ruling groups exclude aboriginal groups. Regardless of who is who, there is friction, there is problem and, according to science, there is hope.

Several studies conducted in business environments have shown that diverse teams perform around 35% better than homogene ones. The reasons behind that are very simple: bringing alternative perspectives to the table instigates exchange of ideas, connected efforts and, eventually, new solutions to old problems.

But let’s be honest: in our jobs, if there is a need for dealing with specific groups, it is because there is a problem. It is not about labelling people but we might be challenged in a neighbourhood or a region with unrest, whose majority of the population is composed of a different group than ours. We probably don’t know why but that’s what we see. Having a team which is open to diversity and to learn about the underlying reasons of the problem can make everybody’s life easier.

Several studies were conducted with law enforcement and security teams that have tried similar approaches and had their results analyzed. Many times, they found out that specifically recruiting people from “the other groups”:

a) Brought a better understanding of the root causes of problems in those communities;

b) Was able to change the attitude of the rest of them team, “humanizing” the other group;

c) Could often de-escalate situations for them being seen as equal;

d) Improved community trust and reduced violent confrontations;

e) Became more fact-based and objective in their judgements;

And many other “collateral effects”.

Sounds too good to be true? It is. A new study from the USA stated that simply having “them” among “us” has failed in most cases. Either the dominant group did not accept the “intruders” and kept their hegemonic position within their institution (i.e. bringing the friction from the outside to the inside) or the newcomers would “adapt” and assimilate into the same behaviours from the group dynamics (especially if they were only a few). Needless to say that did not bring much of a positive change.

So, which approaches did work?

Proactive and intentional recruiting is, of course, the beginning. If you cannot get the right people onboard, nothing is going to happen.

Training shapes behaviours. So make sure that not only the way you train your newcomers is intended to promote diversity but also prepare your existing staff to better deal with those issues.

Address internal cultural issues, make sure there is no room for a “us vs. them” mentality. Have a code of conduct and protocols that are to be followed by all.

Talk the talk, walk the walk. Last but not least, people follow by example. If policies are not enforced or they do not apply to everyone, you can bury your hopes. Promoting diversity in security and law enforcement, however, can go a long way if done properly. That’s not what a nice person says. That’s what research says.