We have a really big problem in law enforcement. It’s time to address the status of women in policing today.

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This article was submitted by guest writer Dr. Gene Ira Katz.

Nationwide: As of 2021, 60.3 percent of full-time civilian employees in US law enforcement agencies were women, but only 13.3 percent of full-time law enforcement officers were women, whereas 86.7 percent of officers were male, and less than 3 percent of police chiefs were female (1).  Louisiana boasts the highest proportion of women officers, at just over 22%, while West Virginia reports the lowest at 3.3% . (2)

Statistics like these are cautionary warnings for leaders in law enforcement, especially for those who understand that local police should mirror the populations in which they serve. (7) Margo Frasier, Police Monitor for Austin, TX, observed, “We make better decisions when those who are making the decisions for the community look like the community.” (3)

Deborah Friedl, a 30-year veteran with the Lowell, MA, Police Department, and the first woman to serve as their deputy superintendent expressed frustration that women have gotten almost no attention in policing. Dep. Superintendent Friedl, who is also vice president of the International Association of Women Police Officers, describes how discouraged she feels at this late stage of her career:

“There’s no energy about doing anything to recruit women or show any effort to do your best to recruit women.” (5)

We have a really big problem in law enforcement.  It's time to address the status of women in policing today.
Women in law enforcement.

Although decades of research have established the benefits of increasing women’s representation in policing (8), according to a report from the National Center for Women and Policing (NCWP), the numbers of women in law enforcement are kept artificially low purposefully through widespread discriminatory hiring practices (4).

The NCWP has been promoting plentiful and convincing research which clearly indicates that the surest pathway toward lowering the rates of violence against women — including sexual assault, rape, and murder — is to recruit more female officers (5).

Those are not the only benefits to be gained by increasing the number of women in the nation’s police agencies.

As reported by the NCWP, over twenty years of extensive research strongly indicates that women police officers generally employ a quality of policing based on far less physical force than traditionally used by their male counterparts, and they also rely much more on communication skills, which are known to be more effective in defusing potentially violent situations.

Reports also indicate that female officers are far less likely to perpetuate incidents of police brutality. Assistant Police Chief Crystal Young-Haskins, of the Little Rock, AR, Police Department explains:

“We hear the public when they criticize us about excessive force. There’s research out there that says that women are better de-escalators. They don’t resort to force first, they communicate first, and then uses of force become a last resort.” (10)

Female officers also tend to be considerably more effective when responding to situations involving violence against women, which comprise the largest category of calls to police agencies across the U.S. (6).

This is further underscored by crime-victimization data indicating that as female police presence increases in any given area, reports of crimes against women, particularly domestic violence, come in at significantly higher rates (5), which means that those victims have a better chance of putting a stop to the abuse as compared to situations that go unreported.

We have a really big problem in law enforcement.  It's time to address the status of women in policing today.

Austin Police Monitor Margo Frasier’s observation that those who are making the decisions for a community should look like that community, strongly suggests that police leadership across the US should seriously overhaul recruitment and retention practices insofar as women are concerned.

For one example, specifications for strength testing are almost universally based upon male physical characteristics, where upper body strength is an advantage.

In states like New Jersey, female recruits and sworn officers fail these tests at three times the rate of males. However, if such testing was readjusted to account for lower body strength, female officers would not be at such an unfair disadvantage (2).

The old-fashioned, authoritarian style of top-down management is typical in many, if not most, of America’s 18,000 police departments, along with the quasi-military tradition of ‘don’t question orders,’ which generally trickles down to reinforce authoritarian policing styles, where law enforcement takes charge of any given engagement without much room for civilian input.

This management style is not amenable to the gentler, more humanistic approach generally exhibited by female officers, who have a proven track record of being able to diffuse tense situations with a more cooperative, communicative approach (2).

We have a really big problem in law enforcement.  It's time to address the status of women in policing today.
Stock image.

One of the most forward-looking proposals to show up recently is the 30 by 30 Initiative, a national movement promoting the notion of having 30% of America’s sworn police officers be women by the year 2030.

This initiative is comprised of a coalition of police leaders, researchers, and professional organizations who have joined together to advance the representation and experiences of women in all ranks of policing across the United States, built upon decades of research that shows the unique benefits women officers bring to policing agencies, such as those already discussed here, and more.

30 by 30 has garnered active support from over 300 police agencies nationwide and is also promoted by the US Dept of Justice. (8) (9)

Just a few examples have been presented here that point to some of the positive long-term effects likely to result from recruiting and hiring more women as law enforcement officers, in addition to some of the changes required to improve female representation and effectiveness in America’s police departments. Heading into the future, it is the leadership of this nation’s police agencies who will need to take on the necessary commitment to advance the training and hiring of capable women, vital assets, who have been overlooked and underused for far too long.

References

1- Duffin, E., (2022), Gender distribution of full-time U.S. law enforcement employees 2021. Retrieved from https://www.statista.com/statistics/195324/gender-distribution-of-full-time-law-enforcement-employees-in-the-us

3- Wedell, A., (2017), Women in law enforcement. Retrieved from https://www.n-r-c.com/gender-balance-law-enforcement/

4- National Center for Women & Policing, (2020), Changing the face of policing. Retrieved from

http://womenandpolicing.com/

5- Asquith, C., (2018), Why aren’t U.S. police departments recruiting more women? Retrieved from https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2016/08/police-departments-women-officers/497963/

6- Spillar, K., (2015), How more female police officers would help stop police brutality. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2015/07/02/how-more-female-police-officers-would-help-stop-police-brutality/

7- Ramsay, A., (2021), Diversity in policing: An educational assessment. Retrieved from https://www.blueline.ca/diversity-in-policing-an-educational-assessment

8- Policing Project at NYU School of Law, (2021), 30 X 30:  Advancing Women in Policing: 30% Women Recruits by 2030. Retrieved from https://30x30initiative.org/

9- Goldsmith, M., (2022), More police departments are hiring women, here’s why. Retrieved from https://www.thv11.com/article/news/local/police-departments-more-women-recruits/91-ef6d1985-e10e-43bc-9f6d-b1c0cdf17575

About the writer: Dr. Katz is an Associate Professor at Colorado Technical University’s College of Criminal Justice and Health Services where he’s been teaching a variety of courses in Criminal Justice for over a decade. He holds a Doctoral degree in Criminal Justice and has been invited to speak at numerous relevant conferences and events for organizations such as the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences, the Illinois Assn of Chiefs of Police, and the Mid-Atlantic States Correctional Assn, among others.

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We have a really big problem in law enforcement.  It's time to address the status of women in policing today.

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