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The Longest Climb

It's a tough journey to the top, but women cops are slowly working their way up the law enforcement ladder.

October 01, 1996  |  by Sara Roen

Hanson-a single mom-and other top female law enforcement officials note that women often have "more to juggle" than men, and they simply find it too much work to seek special assign­ments or command opportunities that would take them away from their chil­dren. Often, if a spouse is not supp0l1­ive, mobilizing in the middle of the night and worrying about who will take care of the kids can pose a major problem.

"I still believe that women who have families have it harder. Unless you have that rare commodity-a husband who is an egalitarian-women carry more of the burden," Hanson said. Many women, she added, question how they can be on a tactical team with extra callouts while having a family life.

For Judy Wright, a former officer with the Orlando (Fla.) Police Depart­ment, family life had to take priority. Wright and her husband, Charlie, met while they were in the police academy. After they married, they were once assigned to the same squad.

However, when they started a family, their son had health problems that required extra attention. The couple's work schedules became complicated.

Judy left after serving nearly nine years in law enforcement. Her husband advanced to the second highest ranking position in the department and is now one of four deputy chiefs with the department. Judy later became a school teacher, but said she misses and regrets leaving law enforcement.

Bearing the Burden

Hanson, who has five female officers in her department, added that women feel added pressures. Some women fear that if they fail at a task, it not only would reflect badly on them-but on all women cops. "Sometimes we're our own worst enemy by talking ourselves out of taking advantage of the opportu­nities that are presented," she said.

"I've gathered that there is still some resistance in the internal workings of the organization-that it's still a man's world out there," she noted, adding that young female officers need to seek as much "good" experience as possible, such as serving as head of squad.

"Those experiences are hard to come by for women," she said. "Women do well in them, but for pro­motional purposes, it's the other pieces that are difficult."

Hanson added, "We have learned from the private sector-our counterparts out there-that you don't have to sit back and hope things happen. There are ways to make things happen." And women now are learning to work as a group and support each other toward advancing. She said she would advise women cops not to be afraid to "take risks and try for those special assignments."

Training for Advancement

One way for women to advance their careers is to partake in the Senior Management Institute for Police, which is offered through PERF. The 17-year-old program has traditionally been attended by high-­ranking male officers from across the country. Director Tony Nan says, however, that enrollment of women officers has increased over the years.

The intensive educational program is designed for those officers who've already reached high management levels and are "likely to lead (law enforcement) into the next decade."

Nan said the management training program has increased in importance. Until recently, law enforcement had no real competition. Nan said that now, with the trend toward privatiza­tion, police agencies are being forced to run more efficiently and cost effec­tively. And, he added, police agencies are having to answer to their "customers"-the public. "We're entering a whole new era of police management," said Narr, a former Baltimore police captain.

Many of the institute's instructors come from Harvard University. Narr said much of the program focuses on case studies of issues that have impact­ed business, and how those issues are translated to law enforcement manage­ment concerns. "It brings to focus some things they may not have thought about before," Narr noted.

Some of the instruction includes sound business practices that most may have never considered applying to law enforcement. For instance, students learn the philosophy of how to change the direction of an agency, how to develop a mission statement, and why. Students learn to comprehend the political ramifi­cations for their actions and decisions.

"We've come to learn that what's most crucial is identifying the cause of the problem and then eradicating it," Narr added. "We're trying to bring business practices and principles into law enforcement. This takes' (students) to another plateau."

Students can also take advantage of the networking opportunities, Narr said. Here they develop rela­tionships that are the ultimate in net­working." That, said Narr, is impor­tant to the career paths of both men and women. But he acknowledged that women have the challenge of a well-established managerial system already in place.

Seeking Out Mentors

Surprisingly, women have played critical roles in law enforcement for more than a century. Cherry, who is based in Des Moines, Iowa, said the organization she heads was established in 1915 by a handful of women police working in Milwaukee. She noted that the first official police woman in U.S. history was Alice Stebbins, who worked in Los Angeles in 1910.

"She was a pioneer in preventive issues," related to children, women, dance hall activity and crime preven­tion, Cherry said. These are issues typi­cally associated with women.

CONTINUED: The Longest Climb «   Page 2 of 3   »

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