As people around the city of Seattle and the nation celebrated and observed Asian Pacific Islander American Heritage Month, the topic of diversity and API representation in the Seattle Police Department (SPD)’s top ranks entered my mind.
A study entitled “An Assessment of the Seattle Police Department’s Community Engagement: Through Recruitment, Hiring, and Training” released earlier this year found that Asians are proportionately the least represented in the SPD. Asians make up 13 percent of the population of Seattle and 10 percent of the applicant pool, but only 7 percent of the department is Asian.
Similarly in the King County Sheriff’s office, APIs make up 16 percent of the population and only 6 percent of the department is a member of the API community.
In a letter responding to criticisms about the lack of diversity, Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole said, “Of the 94 internal and external candidates who applied for the assistant chief positions [last year], there was only one external applicant who identified with the API community. Unfortunately, I was informed that individual did not meet the minimum requirements in the job specifications.”
Community leader Alan Sugiyama asked, “How effective was [O’Toole’s] recruitment if it resulted in only one “unqualified” API candidate? I would have expected her to re-open the search and told the recruiter to come back with more diverse candidates.”
I am of the mindset that police departments nationwide have good intentions and they do their best to hire a diverse staff. But they have a long way to go. And they need to do more in the way of community outreach if they want a police force that truly reflects the people it serves.
The hiring process aside, perhaps the API community needs to take a hard look at itself and be honest. The lack of diversity in SPD’s upper echelon could be a problem created and perpetuated by APIs themselves. How many Asian parents do you know pressure their kids to enter law enforcement?
The professions preferred by API parents include doctors, lawyers, engineers, and accountants.
Understandably, first generation APIs, who came to the United States because the economic situation in their home country was bad, want their children to secure high paying jobs that can survive economic downturns.
The mindset is that more money equals a safe and better life. Those preferred professions also carry a certain prestige and bragging rights.
It’s a universal longing that parents want to know that they’ve done a good job of raising their kids and secured a “good life” for them. They want to be able to say, “Look at what an awesome job we did as parents.”
They want to have peace of mind — their own fears, worries, struggle, pain, and disappointments are more than enough for them. So as much as possible, they want to eliminate the insecurities, worries, struggle, pain, and disappointments from the lives of their children.
If we, as APIs, want diversity in the command staff at police departments, perhaps we should take some responsibility and do our part. If it’s too distasteful to actually encourage your children to enter law enforcement, then don’t discourage them, guilt trip, or shame them if that’s what they choose.