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Minority Men in Policing (page 3)

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Updated on Dec 2, 2010

African-American men have had a longer history in federal law enforcement than women. Bass Reeves, a slave who escaped to Indian Territory after a fight that resulted in his beating his master, was appointed the first black deputy marshal west of the Mississippi River in 1875. He did not retire until 1907, when he was 83 years old. Other African-Americans also served as deputy U.S. marshals, primarily in the western portion of the country. Frederick Douglass, the abolitionist leader who served as an advisor to President Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War, was named the first African-American U.S. Marshal by President Rutherford Hayes in 1877.

The histories of the participation of other minority groups in policing are less likely to have been formally recorded. Most of what is known has been learned from local agency histories or from the fraternal associations representing the various groups. Because much of the southwestern United States was once a part of Mexico and Latinos continued to exercise political power in the pre-statehood and early-statehood periods, many of the early sheriffs in the areas that became the states of New Mexico and Arizona were Latino. Many were elected to multiple two-year terms; in San Miguel County, NM, the Romero family controlled the sheriff's office for decades prior to statehood. Similarly, Elfego Baca, born during the Civil War, was a deputy sheriff in Socorro County, NM, who eventually became an attorney, a deputy U.S. marshal, the mayor of Socorro, and, in 1919, the elected sheriff of Socorro County.

The records of the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund (NLEOMF), which records the histories of officers killed in the line of duty has identified a deputy sheriff killed in a gunfight in Monterey County, CA, in 1855 as the first Hispanic officer to be killed in the line of duty. The San Diego, CA, Police Department (SDPD) hired a former deputy marshal as its first Hispanic officer in the early 1890s.

The history of Asian-Americans is even more difficult to trace. Once again, it often requires reviewing the histories of individual police departments, many of which, particularly since the 1970s and 1980s, have sought to reassure applicants of different ethnicities that they are welcome within the ranks by highlighting the presence of similar officers in earlier decades. By 1917, for instance, the SDPD listed Chinese-American officers within its ranks.

Minority groups have increased their presence in policing since the 1970s, primarily through legislation and court cases. The Equal Employment Opportunities Act of 1972 extended the provisions of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, including Title VII, to state and local governments. Title VII of the original 1964 act had prohibited job discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. Many minority groups were also unable to gain large numbers of police positions because of various civil service entry requirements, especially those pertaining to height.

A Supreme Court decision that had nothing to do with policing ended many of these requirements. In the case of Griggs v. Duke Power Company (401 U.S. 424), the Court ruled in 1971 that hiring standards that could not be shown to be job-related and that discriminated against certain groups were unconstitutional and that it was the obligation of the employer to show that the selection standards were relevant. Police departments were unable to show the relevancy of many of their height and weight requirements. Some of the specific physical agility tests were also determined to have no relevance to tasks police officers were expected to perform. While certainly not all Asians or Hispanics are shorter than white men, the restrictions limiting police employment to those at least 5'7", and for state policing often 5'9", that had reduced their numbers were discarded, leading to their greater presence in policing today. Today, regardless of your size, sex, or ethnicity, if you are able to meet height/weight proportionality requirements and the other requirements explained in Chapter 2 you stand an excellent chance of fulfilling your interest in a police career.

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