In 1910, Alice Stebbins Wells, a social worker, made history when she was hired by the Los Angeles Police Department as the first "policewoman" in the United States. Since that time women have continued to join the police community and have played a crucial role in changing the appearance of law enforcement.
Yet, women still only make up 4 to 15 percent of the police community, depending on the size of the agency. It would stand to reason that larger agencies have a higher percentage of females than smaller agencies. This is unacceptable when women currently make up 50 percent of the total workforce.
There is no doubt that men and women are equally capable of being police officers, and there are numerous advantages to adding women to the roster. Females are capable of solving problems and have better communication skills. They're a tremendous asset when it comes to investigating crimes against women and children, and they tend to be better at defusing hostile situations. Female officers are less likely to use excessive force, therefore reducing liability.
Women will also lower the number of sexual discrimination and harassment complaints an agency may suffer. Now, I know that sounds strange, but think of it this way. The more women there are in an agency, the more likely the "atmosphere" will change. Therefore, as women join a department the men will become more comfortable with their presence and the inappropriate behavior will cease.
So as a department, how do we successfully recruit qualified females? In today's world, law enforcement agencies are faced with numerous challenges in recruiting qualified candidates of any gender. A decade ago, when a rural Maine police department had an open position they could expect 100-200 candidates to apply. Today, they're lucky to get 20.
With all this being said, are current recruiting tools missing out on the female population as potential police candidates? Are we, as a police community, doing things that hinder or scare women away from this job? I think most departments would agree they are interested in hiring qualified female candidates. However, they are challenged in locating and recruiting women.
The first thing an agency has to look at is its job description. Prior to any agency implementing strategies to hire female officers, they first must look at, and possibly modify, their agency's job description. When was the last time your agency's job description was reviewed? Does it contain language that could be considered gender biased?
Many departments still place a heavy burden on brute strength and physical skills and not enough on mental abilities such as communication and mediation skills. The job description should accurately describe the duties an officer is expected to perform.
Second, are we as a society still stereotyping police work as a male role? Just look at Hollywood and all they do to illustrate our job, and how inaccurate we know it really is. Does the civilian population know that?
Hollywood's version of police work is high-speed chases, gun fights, hostage situations, and cleverly orchestrated fist fights. We all have experienced these types of situations, but are they our day-to-day routines? No. So does the Hollywood version of police work send a message to women that this job is impossible?
Finally, because there is a lack of women in the field of law enforcement, many young girls don't have the opportunity to see policewomen as role models in the community. Recently, however, Hollywood has given the public exposure to females in police work with reality shows such as "Police Women of Broward County" and "Police Women of Maricopa County." It will be interesting to see if these types of shows will change the perception and percentage of women in law enforcement.
I fear the existing tempo of hiring women will continue to keep us under represented within the law enforcement community. Given the complex challenges facing police agencies today, I believe the advantages for hiring women have never been more obvious.
Stay tuned for more blog posts from Sgt. Doucette about recruiting women to law enforcement.