The Missouri State Highway Patrol has historically been made up largely of white males, and progress toward change has been slow.
St. Louis Public Radio cites statistics showing that 94 percent of state troopers are white and only about 5 percent of officers on the road are women.
Patrol leaders say they want a diverse force, something especially important in an era when police-involved shootings of black people continue to generate attention. St. Louis is still facing protests three weeks after a judge acquitted former police officer Jason Stockley in the 2011 shooting death of a black suspect.
Efforts are in place to bring in more African-American and female troopers, but obstacles include a history of racial tension between police and minority communities, patrol recruitment director Roger Whittler said.
“Historically, law enforcement was the front line in some of the practices in the early civil rights era that maintained the status quo,” he said. “So when we try to improve on equality and inclusiveness, it does take time.”
ACLU of Missouri executive director Jeffrey Mittman said that distrust is still being reinforced, citing police-involved killings as well as a yearly report showing that Missouri police agencies continuing to profile black motorists.
“African-Americans are stopped, searched, (and) arrested more often than whites, so what I’m saying is, there is a context of unequal policing,” Mittman said.
There are other issues, too. Whittler said black and female troopers have historically been more likely to drop out of the Highway Patrol academy before graduating. The patrol’s mentoring program seeks to change that by requiring mentors to spend time with recruits in person.
Another issue is that African-American recruits typically prefer to live and work close to their hometowns, which is not guaranteed with the patrol.
“We’ve historically seen the need to assign people anywhere in the state, so that has a different impact sometimes on minorities,” Whittler said. “Because a lot of our black populations are located in Kansas City, St. Louis, southeast Missouri.”
Adolphus Pruitt, who heads the St. Louis branch of the NAACP, said the Highway Patrol should set up a training program to attract high school and college student to the patrol.