Police

UC, Cal State police much less diverse than the students they serve

Taylor Walker
Written by Taylor Walker

By Omar Rashad and Katherine Swartz, CalMatters

California’s public universities are among the most racially diverse in the nation, but campus police departments don’t reflect that diversity.

At 32 of 33 public university campuses, police officers are whiter than the students they serve, a CalMatters review of officer demographics shows. And in many cases, the disparities are glaring: Cal State Monterey Bay, for example, has a student population that is just over a quarter white. Yet of the university’s 15 police officers, 12 of them are white — about 80%.

The same story repeats across the state. Overall, the University of California and the California State University systems employ nearly 800 sworn officers. Roughly half of them are white, compared with less than a quarter of students attending the two systems.

CalMatters obtained records of the race and gender of every active, sworn police officer at UC and CSU as of February 11, 2021, from the state’s Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training. The statistics alone don’t tell the whole story: Individual law enforcement agencies self-report racial demographics to POST and it may not capture all the ways identity intersects. And some campus activists think officer diversity is beside the point, when they’re fighting to abolish the armed police departments entirely.

But at a time of heated debate about the presence of police on college campuses — a presence that police reform advocates say disproportionately affects students of color — the data shed light on a key aspect of the relationship between officers and the communities they are sworn to protect.

“Minority people don’t feel safe with cops and now it’s a majority white cop force on campus,” said Diego Rivera, a recent graduate of Cal Poly San Luis Obispo who identifies as Latino. White people make up about half of the university’s student body, but nearly three-quarters of campus police officers.

“Driving around at night I always had my eye over my shoulder just in case UPD wanted to pull me over for whatever reason,” Rivera said. “It’s like you still get a feeling of paranoia, you know, not being a white person on campus.”

While diversity has long been discussed in policing, the 2015 report from President Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing recommended that police departments strive to better reflect their communities in terms of race, gender, language, lived experience, and cultural background. Diversifying would improve both community trust and the internal culture of police departments, the report said.

Cal State police chiefs “are really focused on community policing and trying to get the recommendations in the 21st Century Policing Task Force report implemented at every campus in the system,” said university spokesperson Mike Uhlenkamp.

At UC Davis, police chief Joseph Farrow acknowledged that his department needed to work harder to reflect the campus community. About 53% of the department’s 45 officers are white — far higher than the roughly 27% of Davis students who are.

“Racial diversity brings in the other stuff: The lived experiences, the different backgrounds, different beliefs,” Farrow said. “Are we there yet? Probably not. Do we have to keep working and be able to do that? Yes, we do.”

Other police chiefs on campuses with majority white departments said racial diversity is just one factor in building a representative department, and pointed to barriers they said made it hard to hire non-white officers.

“I think you can’t just take racial diversity and think that all the problems and the challenges are going to go away,” said Nader Oweiss, the recently-hired chief of police at Sonoma State University, where the department is 83% white.

In hiring officers, Oweiss said, departments also need to consider “whether they speak another language, they were born in the community, whether they worked in the community or went to school in that community.”

At the Chico State University police department in rural northern California, Chief Matthew Dillon said these days, not a lot of people want to be police officers. “We want our department to reflect the community we serve, but right now it’s particularly challenging because getting any qualified applicant is difficult,” he said. His department is about 88% white, compared with 43% of Chico State’s students.

But would diversifying campus police departments make a difference in how they serve their communities?

Kamille Magante, a 2020 graduate of CSU Dominguez Hills, says yes. The majority of police officers at the ethnically diverse campus are Latinx, Asian or Black —  an anomaly in the CSU system — and Magante said that helped her feel comfortable using police services, like asking for an escort to her car at night.

“I felt that they understood a lot of the culture of the school and the history, and then the surrounding communities where all these students come from,” said Magante, who co-founded Pagsikapan, the school’s Pilipinx-American organization. “I feel like it created a safer environment, because those police officers understand who we are and our culture.”

But Melys Bonifacio-Jerez, a Chico State student who grew up in New York’s heavily policed South Bronx neighborhood, said they never feel safe around police officers, regardless of the officers’ background.

“Seeing police officers on campus and, like, institutions of learning — it distracts me from learning because I have that lived experience,” said Bonifacio-Jerez, who is also a member of the CSU Abolition Network, a group of students, faculty and community members advocating for police to be removed from Cal State campuses. “Honestly, that just re-traumatizes people like me.”

Some studies of city police departments show that non-white officers are just as likely as white officers to shoot civilians of color, and that diversifying police agencies does not necessarily create better relationships with their communities.

That’s because at the core of policing in America is the culture found inside departments and how it influences the way officers interact with their communities, especially marginalized ones, said Augustine Kposowa, a sociology professor at UC Riverside who studies criminology and policing.

“There is deep-seated racism that is built into American culture, and police come out of that culture,” said Kposowa. “The culture has way too many stereotypes, especially (of) Black men and Black women.”

Diversity in law enforcement should be encouraged, Kposowa said, but “by itself we cannot just depend on it and think it’s our solution to the policing problem.”

A few public university campuses, like Cal State East Bay, have successfully built diverse police departments.

“One of the reasons that I was comfortable coming to East Bay was because when I did a ride-along and when I met with officers at this department, I could tell right away that there was quite a mixture that reflected the population,” said Omar Miakhail, a lieutenant who oversees hiring for Cal State East Bay police.

Miakhail, who came to the United States from Afghanistan as a child refugee, said he understands the importance of police diversity from firsthand experience. The few times his family had to call police from their Hayward home, a white officer came to the door. Miakhail said he always felt that if the department had been able to send a Middle Eastern officer, his family would have felt more comfortable.

“You want the person who responds to be able to understand you culturally, understand the circumstances you’re going through,” Mikhail said. “So when you don’t get that, I think that it causes barriers, which causes the issues we do have in law enforcement.”

At East Bay, 25% of campus officers are Black, 30% are Latino and 13% are white, roughly mirroring the student population. Miakhail attributed the department’s diversity to both its hiring practices and the campus’ location in the ethnically mixed city of Hayward.

Officer candidates are first interviewed by a four-person panel, made up of only one police department representative and three other Cal State East Bay faculty and staff members “who understand the faculty and staff culture” and can make a collective decision on whether a candidate is the right fit for the campus, Miakhail said.

Efforts like those at Cal State East Bay are more likely to make a difference if campuses prioritize promoting officers of color to leadership positions, said Rashawn Ray, a sociology professor at the University of Maryland who researches police-civilian relations. That way, they are more likely to help shape department policy.

For José Simon Carmona, the diversity in his campus’ police department is a step in the right direction. Carmona is a second-year health science major at Cal State East Bay and the diversity senator for the university’s student government, a position focused on advocating for students who are Black, Indigenous and people of color. “I work in healthcare, and I visually see the importance of when a patient is able to see a physician that represents them, knows the issues and knows what they personally go through,” Carmona said.

Still, he said more structural changes to the police department — like finding ways to stop racial profiling of students — were needed to help students of color feel safe on campus.

“Diversity is important, because officers are representing and serving in our community, but it doesn’t fix all the issues,” he said. “It’s very hard to reform an institution that’s meant to basically oppress.”


Rashad and Swartz are fellows with the CalMatters College Journalism Network, a collaboration between CalMatters and student journalists from across California. Felicia Mello contributed reporting. This story was produced in collaboration with Open Campus and supported by the College Futures Foundation.

This story first appeared at CALmatters.

Main photo by Anne Wernikoff, CalMatters: Campus police officers Tejinder Arurkar, left, and Lt. Omar Miakhail walk around the Cal State East Bay campus in Hayward on Feb. 17, 2021. CSUEB has one of the most diverse campus police departments in the state.

19 Comments

  • Maybe all facets of society should reflect the diverse population they serve – qualifications be damned.

    Doctors should be hired based on their race and gender. We shouldn’t worry about those pesky little details like how they did in medical school and whether they know how to save lives.

    Structural engineers likewise should be chosen the same way. Fill the slots with anything but those inconvenient white males. It’s not like hundreds or thousands of lives are at risk when buildings collapse.

    As long as liberals are satiated, the actual results and outcomes don’t matter. Excuse me, I have to go check my white privilege now…

  • Defund the police has turned into good old race quotas. Kinda like how occupy Wall Street got memory holed in favor of black lives matter. The status quo will do whatever it has to to survive, using race has been a pretty clever trick, not sure how it’s going to turn out though.

  • Exactly…….add journalism in there as well. Taylor and Celsete, both being white, one of them should be let go regardless of qualifications.

  • The officers come from the community. Their racial make should be consist with the community like any other business in the area. Universities are exactly that a business.

    Students are drawn from all over California and the Nation. So of course their racial makeup might actually be different than the local community.

    When you look up the race of the professors about 65% are white and the rest are people of color.

    How can we expect white professors to educate people of color?

  • I hope you’re joking. Knowledge is knowledge, in spite of what liberals want you to believe. This is how we end up with the “math is racist” notion and the like.

    How can a white professor teach? As they used to – without consideration for social justice nonsense. Politics and social justice have absolutely no place in courses that don’t involve those subjects.

    I’ve known too many young people who go to college and suddenly think their socialist (really communist) professors are the cat’s ass of worldliness. They have been indoctrinating our young for decades.

    Using your “logic,’ we should check the demographics of surrounding areas and adjust the composition of every public and private institution, Fire the “minorities” and hire newly-described minorities. Disposable workers – brilliant idea.

  • I agree, if this Golden Age of Wokeness” means reviewing and identifying all the old movies, cartoons and social inequities that exist in the world lets start with this site. We all know the editor is a white female along with Taylor. Where are the pictures of editorial talent that is reflective of the racial makeup of society? Silicone Valley and Big Tech is still predominately white and definitely void of Black Americans. Those good paying behind the scenes motion picture jobs have long excluded Blacks from being hired. Let’s talk about the ports, are the ranks of longshoremen racially diverse and represented of the states population? In all these instances most jobs should be held by Hispanics I would guess based on the states demographics?

  • Exactly. Using that SJW tinted lens, Celeste is a racist, since she demonizes the Latino sheriff every chance she gets while fondly recalling the good old days when the white sheriff was in charge.

    Should I hold my breath and wait for that follow up article on LASD diversity?

  • Um, Tiger Woods? I see where that has a lot to do with LASD diversity, LOL! BTW, Lomita station did a wonderful job in spite of all that media scrutiny. So did the sheriff, and I know that breaks your heart. Better luck next time.

  • Not LASD diversity; AV’s demonization.

    Looks like it’s fully underway.

    Just in time for next year’s election.

  • Yes, Wonderful Job by the Clown Sheriff and his Circus of Skippers.

    https://www.laweekly.com/judge-says-deputies-who-shared-photos-of-kobe-bryant-crash-must-be-named/

    “This lawsuit is about accountability and about preventing this disgraceful behavior from happening to other families in the future who have suffered loss,” Vanessa Bryant’s attorney, Luis Li, said in a statement. “The department formally refused Mrs. Bryant’s requests for information saying it was ‘unable to assist’ with any inquiry and had no legal obligation to do so. It’s now for a court to tell the department what its obligations are.” ❖

  • Seeking…are you a person of color? What was the ethnicity of the majority of your teachers? Do you have friends who are persons of color? Who educated them?
    Doesn’t matter the color of one’s skin. A person’s background and life learned lessons may affect their character and abilities but the color of one’s skin has nothing to do with anyone’s ability to be devoted to their profession, be it health care, teaching, civil service or anything else.
    Is this divisive racial identity bullshit gonna ever end? How can it possibly be helping? It’s racist.
    WLA- can’t you find something to “report” on that affects the “community” as a whole? Good Lord!!!

  • Rakkasan, sounds like you are ready to pop the champagne in celebration. Maybe if you’re lucky you’ll get Gascon to abandon the DA race he’s being recalled for and you can support his run for sheriff! Imagine the possibilities…

    Clown car, Vanessa and her attorney are doing their best to try the case on social media, but that same court is going to tell them without proof of photos circulated, what are her damages? She’ll milk out a few hundred thousand as a settlement, but the fact remains the sheriff’s move to destroy all photos is exactly what they would have sought through the court. It will be their turn to explain the discrepancy, something even the inept county counsel may point out.

  • @Seeking the truth

    I hope you’re joking. Knowledge is knowledge, in spite of what liberals want you to believe. This is how we end up with the “math is racist” notion and the like.

    How can a white professor teach? As they used to – without consideration for social justice nonsense. Politics and social justice have absolutely no place in courses that don’t involve those subjects.

    I’ve known too many young people who go to college and suddenly think their socialist (really communist) professors are the cat’s ass of worldliness. They have been indoctrinating our young for decades.

    Using your “logic,’ we should check the demographics of surrounding areas and adjust the composition of every public and private institution, Fire the “minorities” and hire newly-described minorities. Disposable workers – brilliant idea.

  • So even Alejandro’s #1 Social Media Cheerleader admits that due to Allie’s mishandling coverup attempts, Mrs Bryant will receive “a few hundred thousand” in a settlement deal.

    Nice try!

    I can 100 percent guarantee that the formerly retired lieutenant who is now failing miserably at playing Sheriff, and who bungled his efforts to coverup this significant misconduct, including his personal and specific directions to destroy potential evidence while a federal investigation was underway, will cost MILLIONS to “settle” and much much more if they foolishly take this suit to civil trial (which will never happen since Alex the Clown, or Mr. Transparency, as he likes to claim, would never want the facts of his personal involvement in this failed coverup attempt to come out).

    A few hundred thousand? Dream on Lil Dreamer

  • Should sports reflect the community racial makeup? Of course not. You want the most talent at every position.

  • Didn’t the voters just defeat Proposition 16 which would have repealed the amendment which struck down the Affirmative Action in California schools? This tells me that even though some opportunistic state politicians tried to ride the “swell of racial division and unrest” last year by introducing this amendment, even the CA voters weren’t feeling “socially justice inclined” enough to vote Yes. I’m just waiting, or it may have already happened in the cover of COVID 19, for one of the states
    “Woke” assembly members to introduce the same amendment in the form of an assembly bill or senate bill and get the governor to sign it into law by executive order? This has been and continues to be how the legislature gets what it wants so the “will of the people be damned”. Stay tuned!

  • If we are going to go along with this assumption that all high paying/high profile positions should be representative of the community, then Most of these jobs and positions should be held by Latinos ! The soon to be majority if not already in California.

    Why is there no outcry, support or demonstrations in the streets ?

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