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Doug  Wyllie

Doug Wyllie

Doug Wyllie has authored more than 1,000 articles and tactical tips aimed at ensuring that police officers are safer and more successful on the streets. Doug is a Western Publishing Association “Maggie Award” winner for Best Regularly Featured Digital Edition Column. He is a member of International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association (ILEETA), an Associate Member of the California Peace Officers’ Association (CPOA), and a member of the Public Safety Writers Association (PSWA).

Lynne Doucette

Lynne Doucette

Lt. Lynne D. Doucette is a patrol supervisor and defensive tactics trainer with the Brunswick (Maine) PD. Prior to being the first female promoted at BPD, she worked as an undercover detective assigned to the state narcotics task force.

Patricia Teinert

Patricia Teinert

Patricia A. Teinert has been a Texas peace officer since 1984. She has served as a patrol officer, investigator, and member of a juvenile gang and narcotics task force. She is currently a patrol officer with Katy ISD Police Department.
Women in Law Enforcement

Pregnancy and Policing

When a female officer gets pregnant, she must be aware of an array of possible risk factors, including chemical hazards, firearms and other issues.

June 24, 2011  |  by Lori Connelly - Also by this author

Pregnancy for a female officer covers many areas of concern, beyond a male officer's primary concern of, "Is she going to be a good backup?"

Several police departments have a policy in place to accommodate pregnant officers who often must present proof to the employer in the form of a letter from the officer's physician. Usually the officer may temporarily transfer to a less dangerous position during the pregnancy and for several months after the birth while nursing. This is if the transfer can be reasonably accommodated.

Once an officer shows her pregnancy physically, most officers agree she should take a light-duty job. The pregnancy adds stress to other patrol officers because they worry about her health and the baby's health. And she must deal with the perception that she looks more vulnerable. Many officers agree that having a visibly pregnant officer on patrol most likely would give the public the idea that the police were not willing or able to engage in dangerous life-threatening or lifesaving situations.      

Unless it's clear that the pregnancy is affecting the officer's ability to perform her regular duties, endangering herself, other employees or members of the public, most police departments can't force the pregnant officer to take a temporary reassignment. The best they can do is ask for documentation from the pregnant police officer's physician. There are undoubtedly some departments who don't have a policy for this, and will force the officer to take a temporary assignment out of pressure and/or the culture within the department. Many women don't complain about discrimination because they don't want to be labeled, and so the discrimination goes unreported even in departments that have policy to prevent it.

In 2006, six female officers with the Suffolk County (N.Y.) Police Department won a case against their department for discrimination during their pregnancies. They weren't allowed to take requested light-duty positions, as male officers could do following an injury. They received between $5,000 and $23,000 each.

In 2008, six female police officers in Detroit filed a pregnancy discrimination case against the Detroit PD, after they were forced to take unpaid leave during their pregnancies. The case was settled in the late summer of 2010 for $200,000.

These aren't big settlements in comparison to other gender-related lawsuits, and especially considering there has been a federal law since 1964 prohibiting discrimination relating to pregnancy. That law, which can be found under the Federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act, states that "discrimination based on pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions is defined as a type of sex discrimination and is prohibited." (Tysinger v. Police Department of the City of Zanesville).

Aside from discrimination and lawsuits, there are some legitimate health issues surrounding pregnancy for an officer, including health-related issues involving stress, firearms, and toxic chemical exposure. Firearms issues involve noise, lead, and toxic-substance exposure from weapon cleaning.

Stress is a concern during any pregnancy but even more so for female officers who often feel the need to hide their pregnancies as long as possible to avoid being put behind a desk or risk losing their job. While stress can lead to many conditions in the mother, it also affects the fetus. The chemicals released by the mother during stress can affect the fetus and the overall health of the pregnancy, leading to high blood pressure, fatigue, or pre-eclampsia.

Some symptoms of stress include insomnia, headaches, chest pain, upset stomach, depression, over eating, anxiety, under/over reacting, and drug or alcohol use to "unwind." Other symptoms that can be brought on or exacerbated by stress in pregnant women are the problems of loss of agility and balance issues.

After researching pregnancy and police officer issues, it appears stress may be the biggest problem for women who are pregnant or who want to become pregnant due to lack of department support. Most departments classify pregnancy under "illness" when it comes to categorizing how the pregnancy will be dealt with in an administrative way.

Social pressures that accompany being a pregnant officer in a male-dominated occupation include the continued pressures to be a good mother and employee at the same time as the child grows. At times, this seems like an impossible task. Many male officers believe a pregnant officer or mother can't do her job properly because she has to take time to care for her children and should look for a different type of job.

Let's delve deeper into the risks of being a pregnant officer.

First, there are the unexpected risks involved with firearms during pregnancy. There's always the obvious risk of being shot. Other risks involved with being around firearms include noise and exposure to lead or other chemicals involved in cleaning a gun.

Noise exposure to a fetus is a matter of serious concern. By 16 weeks of gestation, a fetus responds to sound. By 24 weeks, the ear is structurally complete. The amount of sound blocked by ear protection while firing a gun is significantly higher than the amount of sound blocked going into the womb.

Several studies testing the levels of sound reaching the womb vary according to where and how the microphones have been placed, but there's no doubt that the sound of gunfire reaches a fetus in the womb. The dangers of exposing a fetus to a loud noise while in the womb include miscarriage, retardation, hearing loss in the baby, and decreased birth weight.   

Exposure to lead is another serious issue during pregnancy. Should a female officer qualify with her weapon during pregnancy? It's generally considered safe if reasonable precautions are taken. While it's a risk every pregnant woman needs to be aware of, some precautions can be taken, such as qualifying at an outdoor range where ventilation is good, wearing a mask rated for filtering lead, and avoiding other shooters to limit lead exposure.

Designating someone to pick up the brass after shooting can also help limit exposure to lead or other chemicals. The dangers to a fetus from lead exposure include miscarriage, low birth weight, premature delivery, small head circumference, infant and childhood behavioral issues, and pre-eclampsia. Several studies report that these issues can occur at lead exposure levels that are considered acceptable.

To further limit lead exposure, it's important to wash your hands with cold water after handling firearms or ammunition. Also don't eat or drink at the range, and change your clothes immediately after qualifying or practicing.

Toxic substance exposure is another serious issue officers need to be aware of while pregnant. There's almost no information available about the risks associated with exposure to flares, drug-testing kits, fingerprint kits, and solvents. Chemicals that officers come into contact with while dealing with firearms include arsenic, barium, and copper.

How does this compare to the smoke from flares used during traffic enforcement? Flares shouldn't be inhaled, and the boxes are labeled with warnings about how long a person can be exposed to them while they are burning. I've lit a new flare from the burning end of another flare many times and inhaled the smoke. What are the consequences of breathing in those fumes? More studies are needed to determine the effects of this and other chemicals officers are regularly exposed to.

Researching pregnancy and female police officers can raise new questions. Even if the issues surrounding a pregnancy aren't discriminatory, a policy needs to be put in place. For issues involving stress, culture, or firearms and chemical exposures, women need to speak up, because what affects a pregnant officer ultimately affects everyone.

Comments (9)

Displaying 1 - 9 of 9

oldfart2008 @ 6/27/2011 5:45 PM

Unfortunately, most officers never know the difficulty the "brass" has to deal with in this situation. It's a no win issue. If the officer is moved to a new assignment, most of the guys think admin is being too soft. If the officer is allowed to remain on patrol as long as possible, admin is too hard. Guys, it's about the baby. Wake up.

Retired @ 11/24/2011 3:28 AM

Suffolk showed the same problem that women have with their complaints. Different rules for the good old boy's club. Not a request for anything additional. A simple request for the same treatment.

Paula Usher @ 6/24/2012 11:52 AM

Good Day. I am very interrested in the article featuring "pregnancy". At present I am forming a research proposal to establish the situation within the South African police service (SAPS). As you can guess I'm a bit new to the field of "study" but this is not a deterrent, it is very important to establish how this will influence the future of women in the SAPS and how we can provide for those who follow us. Any help or insight into this subject will be highly appreciated. Thank you. Colonel Paula Usher

Matthew White @ 7/23/2012 10:16 PM

My fiance is pregnant and she is a police officer for Jackson,MS. They put a memo out that there is no more modified duty unless you get hurt on the job. She has turned in a letter from the doctor saying that she is capable of working but not on the streets. And they sent her home and told her to wait for an answer. They told her that she is not going to get modified duty and come pick up the family medical leave package and fill it out and turn it back in. Is that discrimination and if it is what should we do? ( But she choose to do the leave with pay or with out pay ) Is that legal?

Tiffany @ 8/24/2012 7:38 PM

Matthew-check out this article:

Luckily, my agency is more than willing to put pregnant women on modified duty at any time. Some have gone on light duty at 6 weeks pregnant. Myself, I don't want to get stuck behind a desk, so I'm waiting until I start showing and the duty belt doesn't fit anymore. I know once I "out myself as pregnant" at work and choose to stay full duty for a while, I'm going to get snarky comments from other female officers that went on light duty so soon, since I've already hear them say how the job could affect the baby.

Jimmieann @ 11/19/2012 5:09 PM

Check Federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act. Pregnancy is to be treated the same as if she were injured on the job and considered "temporarily disabled"

I work for a small department and I am going through the same thing; however, I know that they can not make me leave. The only option I have is to work "the streets" as long as I can. I am three months pregnant and the equipments does not feel well on my stomach. I am in the process of dealing with attorney's because I completely lost my job the first time and cannot go through this again.
Matthew tell your fiance good luck and I hope you have already contacted an attorney.

Laura S @ 5/11/2014 5:46 PM

Matthew: I am recently pregnant and an officer in a very small department - the first one in the history of our department, to boot. From my limited research I am under the impression that the administration has to treat the pregnancy just as they would any OFF duty injury that renders an officer unfit for duty for a limited time. In my case we have NO light duty for off duty injuries for anyone - therefore I am led to believe that I will have to use sick time, then annual time and then apply for FMLA. Once all my time is used up I believe the law states they only have to "hold" my position for me without pay until I am ready to work again. I just think it stinks that I may be a brand new mother with NO sick time on the books, as well as taking leave without pay, which also affects my retirement. Too bad we only have light duty for on the job injuries!

Laura S @ 5/11/2014 5:53 PM

Hey Matthew: I hope the outcome was good for your girl. Meanwhile - check out this article

Karen @ 9/22/2015 8:47 AM

Can you give me any refrences to studies where you got your information? I am in the Army and my pregnancy profile says I can carry and fire my weapon. So unless I can convince my OB of the risks they can force me to qualify.

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