BATON ROUGE, La. -- As it confronts the controversial shooting of a black man by white officers Tuesday, the Baton Rouge Police Department must face the fact that its own racial makeup hardly resembles the community it serves.
Black officers made up just 30 percent of the Baton Rouge police force in 2013, the last year data were available, even though black residents comprised 55 percent of the city’s population, according to a review of federal data last year by Governing magazine.
Baton Rouge is among just six majority-black cities with populations over 100,000 that have majority-white police forces, according to a WWL-TV analysis of 269 police jurisdictions compiled by Governing.
Of 13 majority-black cities in the U.S., only Baton Rouge, Baltimore, Cleveland, Mobile, Montgomery and Shreveport failed to have a majority-black police force. And among them, Baton Rouge’s 25-percentage-point disparity between the share of black officers and black citizens was the largest, WWL-TV determined.
The BRPD had 658 officers counted in the 2013 data, and 194 of them were black. There were 457 white officers for a city that’s just 36 percent white.
That stands out, especially in comparison with the New Orleans Police Department, which has been under a federal court order for decades and has long boasted a percentage of black officers almost exactly in line with the demographics of the city as a whole. NOPD was 58 percent black in 2013, while the city population was 59 percent black.
Of the 1,261 NOPD officers counted in the 2013 data, 734 were black, 486 were white, 24 were Hispanic, 13 were Asian, 3 were American Indian and one listed two or more races or ethnicities.
The percentage of black officers on more than 12,000 state and local police forces nationwide is about 12 percent, very close to African-Americans’ share of the total U.S. population, according to the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics.
Governing looked at the 269 state and local police agencies in jurisdictions of more than 100,000 residents, and found African-Americans underrepresented by about 6 percent on average.
But Baton Rouge’s disparity far exceeds that, with a police force that is 25 percent less black than the city as a whole.
The largest disparities nationally were for Asians and Hispanics in communities where their populations have exploded recently and the police force hasn’t kept up with the trend. The Baton Rouge Police Department also had no Asian or Hispanic officers counted in the 2013 data, even though those ethnic groups made up a total of about 6 percent of the city population.
Rapid change in the racial demographics was a significant issue in Ferguson, Mo., when a white officer shot an unarmed black teen in 2014. The black community in the town had grown in recent years and the almost all-white police force had not hired black officers to adjust. Such changes are not a factor in Baton Rouge or New Orleans, which have been majority black cities for decades.