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Cover Story

Recruiting Women: Are We Doing Enough?

Times have changed over the past several decades as female officers have become more accepted and proven themselves capable. But bringing more women into the fold has not proved easy.

August 01, 1999  |  by Wesley Harris

Seeking Prospects Early

While citizens' police academics have become commonplace across America, such programs usually do not admit "students" under the age of 18. Lou Dekmar's department, however, sponsors a teen-age police academy to educate young people about law enforcement. Teen-agers attend a full week of training during the summer to learn about all aspects of police work.

"One of the major goals of our teenage police academy," says Dekmar, "is to expose them to information on law enforcement careers." While none of the program's graduates- half of them young women- have reached the age of eligibility to apply for a position, Dekmar is optimistic some who complete the academy will seek police careers. "I think we have wet their appetites to learn more and seriously consider the law enforcement profession."

Federal Programs Are Little Help

Federally funded recruiting efforts do not target any specific group and their success in stimulating more interest in police careers is debatable. The Police Corps program was first funded by Congress in 1993. College students receive up to $7,500 a year, to a maximum of $30,000 to obtain the degree of their choice. After receipt of a baccalaureate degree, participants agree to work for a sponsoring law enforcement agency as regular officers for four years.

The IACP has adamantly opposed the Police Corps believing it attracts those desiring an expense-free education and that the participants will leave their departments, after their four-year commitment, for more lucrative professions.

The IACP has lobbied Congress to provide greater funding for the Law Enforcement Scholarship Program, which according to one IACP statement, provides "education and training for those men and women who have made a commitment to law enforcement careers." Because the scholarship program is consistently underfunded each year, it has had little effect on increasing the number of men or women seeking police careers.

The Ones That Got Away

What's harder than finding female police officers? Apparently, it's keeping them. Chief Mary Ann Viverette of Gaithersburg, Md., plays a prominent leadership role in the male-dominated IACP. Viverette is setting an example for other women by seeking the sixth vice presidency of the IACP, hoping to eventually be the first woman to head the 16,000-member organization.

"Nationwide, 15 to 20 percent of the officers hired annually are women," she explained, "but departments are maintaining a work force that is only 10 percent female.:

Like Kelepecz, Viverette understands female role models and mentors play an integral role in the success and retention of new female recruits.

Viverette also believes more work is needed in recruiting and keeping the best candidates- male and female. Hiring women merely to hire women results in poor retention rates and other problems. Unfortunately, "hiring women merely to hire women" has occurred in some agencies. A Louisiana chief- who requested he not be identified- admitted the first women he hired got their jobs, not so much for their abilities, but because of pressure from city hall to hire female officers. Hampered by a small applicant pool and his own misgivings, the chief realizes now those early mistakes were a disservice to his department and all women officers. He recalls those first female recruits failed to complete a year of service, reconfirming some male officers' opinions that women did not belong there in the first place.

"It can be a self-fulfilling prophecy," the chief explained. "If you think they (women) won't work out and therefore you don't hire and train properly, then it won't work. That reinforces the attitude that women have no place in policing and the cycle starts all over. But it really doesn't matter if they're men or women. Hire problems and you will have problems."

While police departments continue to improve their recruiting methods with the objective of finding the best possible candidates, the cooperation of schools, youth groups and parents will be necessary to bring about greater interest in law enforcement careers. Until more is done to attract young people to public service- a mission requiring the participation of many entities- the competition for female applicants will be intense and the number of women in law enforcement will continue to grow at a sluggish pace.

Wesley Harris spent more than 20 years working in police departments in Louisiana and Georgia. When Harris served as police chiefs in Decatur, Ga., 25 percent of the officers in his department were women. A frequent contributor to law enforcement publications and the author of several books, Harris now runs his own training and management consulting business in Longview, Texas. He can be reached at [email protected]. This was his first contribution to POLICE.


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