Issues for Women in Law Enforcement


23 Mar 2015 11 Dec 2017

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Women were not considered for law enforcement employment unless it was in a typical job in the profession such as, special units, desk and office jobs and received lower pay. While women were often thought of as being weaker in this profession, they fought to be recognized by constantly trying to prove themselves to be better in a male dominated arena. Women have had their struggles as officers in the police system, they have made advances that wouldn't have been heard of in the early 1900's

Overall, women have made great strides in non-traditional careers since the 1950's. With changes in society, cultures and legal mandates have cleared the way for women to become members of law enforcement as well as other male dominated jobs in America and other areas in the world. Compared to the last ten years, law enforcement has changed to meet the demands of a continuing diverse society. We have better trained, educated, and a more diverse law enforcement to help better deal with the issues in our communities. Women were not readily welcomed to this male dominated arena.

The role woman played to make this happen has been challenging. Historically, women have always been part of the general workforce in American society, although usually in jobs that fulfilled traditional female employment roles, such as such as nurses, secretaries, schoolteachers, waitresses and flight attendants. Shusta,et al. (2005).

In 1845, the first women to be hired by the New York City Police Department were called "matrons". In 1888 Massachusetts and New York passed legislation require communities with a population over 20,000 to hire police matrons to care for female prisoners. The early history of women police consisted largely of social service, in which women had to meet higher standards for police employment; Women police officers were given duties that did not allow or require them to work street patrol. Assignments and roles were limited to positions such as juvenile delinquency and truancy prevention, child abuse, crimes against women, and custodial functions.

Probably one of the most damaging acts to police officers was their denial to perform basic patrol duties. One of the main reasons for this was male officers also tend to be protective toward women. Being socially conditioned to protect women, they would insist that female officers remain in the police car during traffic stops or arrest. When women were finally given the right, as a Federal law mandating equal opportunity regardless of gender or race, to perform general police work and serve on patrol, they demonstrated their fitness for police work.

In many smaller departments, women still hold less than ten percent of law enforcement positions. The National Center for Women and Policing reports that nearly 90 percent of all law enforcement agencies require a physical agility test for job applicants. Women face challenges when hiring practices include physical benchmarks based on male aptitude tests which require more upper body strength than women have, is a practice that has seen some changes in recent years. The survey reveals that departments that do not use the test have 45 percent more women on the force than those with the agility exams.

Research has shown that women have encountered difficulties due to negative attitudes of men about being police officers. Most women indicated that when they were exposed to offensive behavior by male officers, they remained quiet for fear of negative male backlash. Sexual harassment is prevalent in most law enforcement agencies. Harassment on the basis of sex is a violation of Section 703 of Civil Rights Act and is defined as unwelcome or unsolicited sexual advances, request for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature.

Studies have found that 60 to 70 percent of women officers experienced sexual/gender harassment. Even though harassment exists, only 4 to 6 percent of these women ever reported the harassment. This lack of reporting can be directly attributed to the code of silence in law enforcement agencies and severe retaliation that occurs when women report misconduct. Bureau of Justice Assistance (2001). In a 1995 survey, of female officers in a medium sized department, 68 percent responded "yes" to the question, "Have you ever been sexually harassed while on duty by a member of your agency" Shusta,et al. (2005). Most of the women revealed that sexual harassment occurs at all levels of an organization and is not limited to male harassment of women. Women, too, can be offenders when they initiate sexual jokes or innuendoes and use of provocative language with men. This kind of behavior usually results in men countering in a similar fashion, which can contribute to and escalate the problem even more. Shusta,et al. (2005).

Becoming a police officer might bring about a more radical change to a woman's life than male officer's. Even today police work is a predominantly male occupation and there persists the notion that assertiveness, aggressiveness, physical capability, and emotional toughness are "male" characteristics necessary to perform the job, but when female officers display these qualities they are often perceived as cold, emotionless, and uncaring. Lyman, M. D. (2005).

According to male police officers, catching criminals is associated with bravery and danger, making it a man's job. It is believed by male officers that female officers cannot protect their male counterparts in confrontations where strength is required. Women who are accepted into the brotherhood of police or correctional officers have generally had to become "one of the guys" Shusta,et al. (2005). It is believed that if a woman has a hard walk, tends to be too hard, or too unemotional she may become criticized by her co-workers and supervisors. If she is too feminine or not sufficiently aggressive, men will not take her seriously and she will not do well in either police or correctional work. When women are confronted with a dilemma: they must be aggressive enough to do the job but feminine enough to be acceptable to male peers, and the must also be able to take different approaches to problems. Shusta,et al. (2005).

In the corrections arena, male officers argued that women could not handle the violence and confrontations with inmates that occur in prisons. In a recent study it was found that women officers tended to respond to violent situations as aggressively as their male co-workers, and sometimes more aggressively. Women officers also seemed to have less trouble with the inmates than did their male counterparts; although they were harassed when they first appeared on the job. Clear and Cole (2003).

Male inmates in minimum custody had surprisingly low opinions of women performing as correction officers, however, maximum custody inmates had high opinions of their competency and felt that such officers would be calm and cool in problem situations. Female officers were thought to exert a softening influence on the environment making it more livable and less violent. Clear and Cole (2003).

The status of women in correctional law enforcement with comparisons between the percentages of women sworn in as state, county and municipal officers indicate a huge difference. ( 2010)

Although there has been advantages and a broad leap for women in the law enforcement arena there has also been setbacks. Gender discrimination and double standards have always had women thinking that they had to perform and do better than male officers. They are often placed in jobs that are "traditionally" held by women police officers, such as domestic violence, child abuse, juveniles, and school programs. They are not usually considered for the more "traditionally male" jobs such as SWAT teams, gang units, narcotics, and homicide.

Women usually face the difficult task of having the dual role of parent and career.

Issues with child care, maternity leave, family responsibilities, flexible work schedules, job sharing, and mentoring and support groups. This can be especially hard for a single parent. If women had children when they entered law enforcement frequently find that they have a hard time balancing their commitments to family and work causing a significantly higher divorce rate than do male officers and have a lower group than the national female rate. Shusta,et al. (2005).

More modernized police organizations try to show support by changing work schedules, being placed on light duty, Disability insurance and paid leave benefits. The proportion of women among sworn police personnel has steadily grown since the early 70's. In 1972 a survey of cities serving populations of 250,000 or more revealed that women comprised of only 2 percent of uniformed law enforcement personnel. In 1978, women made up 4.2 percent of sworn personnel in municipal departments serving populations over 50,000. By the end of 1986, the proportion of women had risen to 8.8 percent of all sworn officers in these agencies and by 1991, 9 percent of police were women.

While women may face many difficulties, sexual harassment, gender discrimination, and overall discrimination in the law enforcement field, the lack of women role models is a barrier for many women who are interested in policing as a career. It is essential that departments there are the few that is paving the way for women.

In 2003, Annetta W. Nunn took the became Chief of Police in Birmingham Alabama, she sat in a chair once occupied by Eugene "Bull" Connor, who was an segregationist and a national symbol of the South's flight against integration who jailed thousands of civil rights demonstrators during the 1960's when Chief Nunn was four years old in 1963. Schmalleger (2005). During her tenure, Chief Nunn was a 23 year veteran of the department heading a force of 838 men and women.

In February 2005, Massachusetts had a celebration to its three top women in law enforcement. Boston police commissioner Kathleen O'Toole leads the nation's oldest department. Suffolk county sheriff Andrea Cabral is in charge of 2,500 inmates and

Massachusetts corrections commissioner Kathleen Dennehy oversees 18 prisons across the state. Each is the first woman to hold her position. Thompson (2006).

In 2006, Cathy Lanier was appointed as the first ever female chief of Police Washington, D.C., by Mayor Adrian Fenty. She officially assumed the position on January 2, 2007. Chief Lanier has been with the Metropolitan Police Department beginning in 1990 with most of her career as a uniformed patrol officer, where she served as the Commander of the Fourth District, one of the largest and most diverse residential patrol districts in the city. She also served as the Commanding Officer of the Departments Major Narcotics Branch and Vehicular Homicide Units. Chief Lanier's story is a testimony to overcoming strife and the hardships that life can bring. At the age of 15, she was an expectant mother, and dropped out of high school, but through determination and the willingness to succeed; she continued to pursue her education, despite having family support, she achieved and reached her goal to achieve academic and professional goals in a short matter of time. Premdas, P. (n.d.).

Joanne Takasato was Honolulu Hawaii's first undercover female narcotics police officer during the 1980's who broke barriers had almost single handedly taken most of the Hawaiian island of Oahu's drug dealers off the streets of Hawaii. Her 394 page book tells the story about how she was forced to sever all ties with family, and friends to create a new identity and lifestyle that would get her accepted into the drug community but to also remain undetected as an undercover officer and had almost lost everything she had known to include her family as well as her sanity in the process.

This is some of the examples of some of the police women who have paved the way and proved themselves as mentors for women who would want to pursue criminal justice as a profession. It is essential that departments that want to attract women candidates have women working in a variety of different positions to highlight the many opportunities that a department has to offer and the equity in the promotional process and assignment to special units. Female officers working as detectives, tactical team officers, street supervisors and high ranking administrators need to exist on a department to maintain some sort of written policy on and procedure on recruitment.

Law enforcement today is facing a crisis - a loss of public confidence and trust in the wake of police scandals that are unparalleled in recent history. Highly publicized incidents of excessive force and police corruption have generated shocking headlines - Los Angeles, New York, Texas, Louisiana, New Jersey, Washington, Seattle, and Chicago. Police brutality and corruption lawsuits are costing taxpayers millions of dollars each year and the number and costs are only increasing. With the payouts increasing, taxpayers will demand that officers and their organizations be held accountable for their actions. Lonsway et al. (2003)

Research conducted both in the United States and internationally clearly demonstrates that women rely on a style of policing that uses less physical force are better at defusing and de escalating potentially violent confrontations with citizens and are less likely to become involved in situations with use of excessive force. Lonsway et al. (2003) As an additional benefit, female officers often respond more effectively to

incidents of violence against women, a crime that represents approximately half of all violent crimes calls to police. Lonsway et al. (2003)

The National Center for Women & Policing states that there are six advantages for law enforcement agencies that hire and retain more women,

1. Female officers are proven to be as competent as their male counterparts

- In one study, female police executives were found to be more flexible, emotionally independent, self-assertive, self confident, proactive, and creative than their male counterpart.

2. Female officers were less likely to use excessive force;

- One study found that male officers were the target of 50% more insults by citizens and almost three times as many threats or attempts at injury in comparison with their female peers.

3. More female officers will improve law enforcement's response to violence against women.

- A 1985 study found that female officers demonstrated more concern, patience and understanding than their male colleagues when responding to calls of domestic violence. Battered women who had contact with a female officer rated the police response as more helpful than those without such contact. They also rated the performance of female officers more favorably.

4. Increasing the presence of female officers reduces problems of sex discrimination and harassment within a law enforcement agency.

Women in Law Enforcement

- One of the most prominent impacts is in promotional opportunities. Male and female officers report the same desire for promotion, yet these opportunities are even seen as less available to women in comparison with their male counterparts. This is likely to be part of the explanation for the higher turnover rate that is consistently seen among female officers, at the academy and on the job.

5. The presence of women can bring about beneficial changes in policy for all officers.

- The Police Foundation noted in 1974 that the introduction of women will create in incentive to management practices which are less acceptable now that they must be applied to men and women alike. This may result in the development of improved selection criteria, performance standards, and supervision for all officers.

6. Female officers implement community-oriented policing

- One study found that instructors indicated that female officers have an advantage over their male peers in several areas, including empathy toward others and interacting in a way that is not designed to "prove" something. Lonsway et al. (2003)

In conclusion, throughout history women have made a way for themselves by showing that they can compete with men if they when given the opportunity. As police officers, they have come from being matrons and doing police work that was considered only for women, to being accepted as officers on the force, to becoming Chiefs of Police. Although there are not as many in the force as there should be, police women and chiefs are they are constantly paving the way for the respect and acceptance that is rightfully deserved. Police women should not have to prove themselves to their male counterparts to become a member of a team. Many women have proven to their male counterparts that they can do police work just well as a male, if not better. Police women are needed to close the gender gap and bring a different perspective to policing to make any police force not just unique, but equal.


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