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Sunday show talking heads brought up a staggering statistic to explain racial division and outrage in Ferguson, Mo., surrounding the killing of an unarmed black teen by a white police officer.
Viewers of the Sunday shows heard variations of the same claim: The majority of Ferguson’s residents are black, but black police officers make up just a sliver of city law enforcement.
The point was made on ABC's This Week by Cedric Alexander, president of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives, and on NBC’s Meet the Press by U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., and NBC News chief foreign affairs correspondent Andrea Mitchell.
"You've got three black officers and 50 white officers with a town that is 67 percent African-American," said Mitchell, who hosted the Aug. 17 show in place of ousted moderator David Gregory. (Gregory’s full-time replacement is Chuck Todd, who starts Sept. 7.)
PunditFact confirmed her claim is largely accurate.
Mitchell’s statistic about Ferguson’s black population checks out through the city’s QuickFacts profile from the U.S. Census Bureau. As of 2010, 67.4 percent of the city’s 21,000 residents are black, and 29.3 percent are white.
The state of Missouri, by comparison, is 83 percent white and 11 percent black.
Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson, who is white, said the police department has 53 officers, three of whom are black, according to the Los Angeles Times and the Associated Press. He also said that the other 50 officers are white, according to newspaper reports. Put another way, Ferguson police officers are 94 percent white and 5.6 percent black.
Timothy Zoll, a spokesman for the Ferguson Police Department, said Sunday that there actually are four African-American officers among the 53-person officer corps. "The discrepancy may have been that we really don't see black or white among our colleagues," Zoll said.
So there is some question whether the number is three or four, but there is no question that an imbalance exists.
Ferguson Mayor James Knowles, who is also white, has addressed the lack of diversity in the police department. According to an Aug. 12 report by St. Louis-based TV station KSDK, Knowles told reporters that young African-Americans aren’t interested in police jobs. Knowles said:
"We hire everyone that we can get. There's also the problem that a lot of young African-American people don't want to go into law enforcement. They already have this disconnect with law enforcement, so if we find people who want to go into law enforcement who are African-American we're all over it because we want them to help us bridge the gap."
The lack of racial diversity on the police force compared with the city population is not unique to Ferguson. It’s actually comparable to other cities its size around the country. A 2007 Department of Justice survey of local police departments found the national average for all local police was 75 percent white. The average for an agency serving a city around Ferguson’s population was 87.5 percent white.
Missouri law requires the state’s attorney general to issue an annual Vehicle Stops Report detailing demographic information for people pulled over by officers in each city. In 2013, the attorney general’s office reported that black drivers in Ferguson were about twice as likely to be arrested after police stops than whites.
Blacks made up 93 percent of 2013 arrests after car stops.
Mitchell said Ferguson has "three black officers and 50 white officers with a town that is 67 percent African-American."
This claim has emerged as a central talking point in the fallout from Brown’s shooting. Her numbers are backed up by news reports quoting the city's police chief and Census data.
The only caveat is that a police spokesman now says that the department has four African-Americans, while the chief previously has said three.
We rate this claim Mostly True.
Interview with Timothy Zoll, Ferguson police department spokesman, Aug. 17, 2014
U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts for Ferguson, Mo.
USA Today, "5 things to know about Ferguson Police Department," Aug. 14, 2014
Vox, "Ferguson is 67 percent black and its police force is 94 percent white," Aug. 12, 2014
New Republic, "Ferguson’s police force is 94 percent white -- and that’s basically normal in the U.S.," Aug. 13, 2014
KSDK.com, "Ferguson police department diversity questioned," Aug. 12, 2014
Los Angeles Times, "Protesters and police face off in St. Louis suburb over shooting," Aug. 11, 2014
St. Louis Post-Dispatch, "Police stops in Ferguson: What are the numbers?" Aug. 12, 2014
Missouri Attorney General, 2013 racial profiling statistics
Tampa Bay Times, "Police chief, NAACP leader predict calmer minds would prevail in Tampa," Aug. 15, 2014
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