The New York State Police remains overwhelmingly white, an imbalance some troopers say is rooted in a legacy of racism.
Of the agency's more than 4,700 troopers, only 4% are Black and 6% are Hispanic. Those are paltry proportions compared to the 16% and 19% of the state's population those groups respectively constitute.
A half-dozen minority troopers told The Associated Press that discrimination has flourished within the agency. Some spoke of being subjected to racist slurs or imagery.
One Black former State Police investigator, Michael Marin, recalled a white colleague admonishing him in 2008 to “take the cotton you’ve been picking out your ears.”
“It was like I was still on the farm,” said Marin, who retired in 2019. “It didn’t seem extraordinary to me because that’s how that job was.”
Trooper Lethonia Miller filed a complaint against a white supervisor for using racial slurs more than a dozen times in his presence. He said “the culture in the State Police was systemically racist.”
“No matter where I was or what I was doing, I was always reminded that I was Black,” said Miller, who retired in 2016 and is suing the agency for retaliation. “It’s depressing to work as hard as you can and still be considered less than your white male counterparts. Every time I heard the word it was as if I was being told, ‘You’re second class.’”
Current leaders acknowledge the agency’s lack of diversity has become more urgent amid a national reckoning over racial injustice.
“You can’t just keep doing the same thing and expect different results,” acting Superintendent Kevin Bruen said in an interview. “We patrol the state, so our ethnic breakdown should roughly mirror that. To say it’s a priority for me would be an understatement.”
New York’s is not the only state police force far whiter than its state population. All 38 state police departments that provided demographic data to the AP had a disproportionately high number of white troopers, when compared to each state’s population.
The Maryland State Police, for instance, is over 80% non-Hispanic white; that demographic group makes up only half the state’s population. And although 30% of the Maryland population is non-Hispanic Black, only 12% of the state police force is Black.
The U.S. Justice Department sued New York in 1977 for discriminating against minorities in promoting and hiring troopers, who patrol New York’s highways, and, in some parts of the state, respond to 911 calls and investigate crimes.
At the time, just 13 of the agency’s 2,712 troopers were Black. A federal judge mandated that 40% of recruits entering the State Police training academy be Black or Hispanic, seeking to bring minority representation in line with the state’s workforce.
The same judge dissolved the remedial hiring goals in 1989 after the agency managed to increase its Black and Hispanic representation to 9% and 6%, respectively. The consent decree was quietly lifted in its entirety in 2015 after the state argued it had made “great strides.”
The percentage of Black troopers had fallen to 6% by mid-2014 and has continued to decline.