FBI Director James Comey’s pointed critique of law enforcement’s rocky dealings with African American communities indirectly called attention to an uncomfortable fact: the percentage of black FBI agents has actually fallen over the past two decades.

The most recent statistics posted on the website of the nation’s premier law enforcement agency show African Americans accounted for 4.7% of the bureau’s special agents in 2012, down from 5.6% in 1997.

Law enforcement critics have cited racial disparities on police forces as one of the reasons for strained relationships with black communities nationwide.

The FBI’s numbers dipped despite a flurry of high-profile discrimination lawsuits filed against the agency in the 1980s and 1990s. Those cases led to an admission of disparities in the treatment of minorities at the bureau, as well as to a slew of reforms intended to remedy those recurring problems.

Comey did not mention the specific personnel figures during his widely-publicized address Thursday at Georgetown University, but in a question-and-answer period he said the bureau’s recruitment of minority agents is inadequate. read more…