Friday was an interesting day with formal funeral ceremonies, touching ad hoc tributes, and an underlying current that portends a larger debate in the coming days – and there are things that will be coming to light in the next few days that should trouble us all.
But that is not for today. A 22-year-old remarkable young woman, a Latina, lost her life at far too young an age and today we should honor her legacy. Honoring her legacy does not mean that we ignore the world – in fact, quite the opposite – we ought to recognize that it was her place in the world that makes her loss all the more tragic.
When Chief Darren Pytel first announced her passing, he described Natalie Corona as a rising star in the department – a remarkable statement, given not only her tender age but the fact that she had only completed her training a few weeks before. Everything we have learned about her since has backed up that perception. And if she was to be a future police chief – then this is all the bigger a loss for this community because she is exactly what this profession needs.
In early December, the Vanguard ran a story that police across the nation are struggling to hire, and exploring the reasons why that is the case. Davis for years has struggled with recruitment. And every single reform-minded report, both locally as well as nationally, has pointed to the need to hire more women and more minorities.
In Natalie Corona we had a woman of color. She is exactly what many people in this community and outside have been calling for and, as a young Latina, she had the opportunity to help to reshape not only her department but the profession that she so loved.
In 2013, an FBI report showed that only 27 percent of local police officers were racial or ethnic minorities.
One of the key provisions from the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing was this one: “Law enforcement agencies should strive to create a workforce that contains a broad range of diversity including race, gender, language, life experience, and cultural background to improve understanding and effectiveness in dealing with all communities.”
The report notes that, while many agencies have long appreciated the critical importance of hiring officers who reflect the communities they serve, diversity “means not only race and gender but also the genuine diversity of identity, experience, and background that has been found to help improve the culture of police departments and build greater trust and legitimacy with all segments of the population.”
It goes on to state: “A critical factor in managing bias is seeking candidates who are likely to police in an unbiased manner. Since people are less likely to have biases against groups with which they have had positive experiences, police departments should seek candidates who have had positive interactions with people of various cultures and backgrounds.”
As big a problem as law enforcement has in terms of attracting recruits of color, the gender distribution is even worse. In 2017, 87.5 of full-time officers were male.
The issue of gender imbalances in policing has gotten less attention. The National Center for Women and Policing has promoted research, for example, that shows the best way to reduce rates of violence against women, sexual assault, rape, and homicide is by hiring and retaining more women officers.
That research, according to a report in the Atlantic, has “gotten almost no attention.”
The article quotes Deborah Friedl, a deputy superintendent of police with the Lowell Police Department in Massachusetts for 30 years.
“I’m so discouraged at this stage of my career,” she said. “There’s no energy about doing anything to recruit women or show any effort to do your best to recruit women.”
The article also cites the work of Carmit Segal, a professor at the University of Zurich, who has led research into the impact of women police officers on crime reduction, and specifically crimes against women.
She wrote a research report in 2014 with Amalia Miller of the University of Virginia that studied the integration of women in U.S. policing between the late 1970s and early 1990s on violent crime reporting and domestic violence escalation and found that female officers improved police quality.
That research has been mostly ignored by policymakers.
But, as the article from December points out, police are facing what could amount to an existential crisis. A report in the Washington Post finds that, nationwide, “interest in becoming a police officer is down significantly.”
Moreover, retaining officers has become harder as well. In a survey by PERF (Police Executive Research Forum) they found that 29 percent of those who left their job voluntarily had been on the force less than a year, with another 40 percent being on the job less than five years.
This problem mirrors the trend that we found in Davis. Back in 2015, then-Assistant Chief Darren Pytel spoke with the Vanguard about the troubles that Davis had recruiting police officers. Some of the problems were more global, with young people not seeing law enforcement in a good light.
But also Davis was disadvantaged, not only from a resource standpoint of being able to recruit and train their own officers, but also from a perception standpoint of a small community that might not have the crime challenges of other places.
Of the many tragic aspects of the loss of Natalie Corona is that she is what we needed and what the profession needed – a bright, young, energetic, woman of color who could have been part of the next generation of police leadership. Sadly, we will never get to see what kinds of changes she could have influenced.
She is exactly what this community and her profession were looking for.
—David M. Greenwald reporting