Women in Law Enforcement
Although there were some women in law enforcement as early as the 1910s, those women cops worked mostly with children and women, guarded female prisoners, and were relegated to the “Women’s Bureau” with limited responsibilities. As you can imagine, breaking through the glass ceiling wasn't easy, especially for the higher ranks within the police department.
In 1972, Congress passed an amendment to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, prohibiting state and local agencies from job discrimination based on gender. Police departments were required to hire women for jobs on an equal basis with men. The Metropolitan Police Department of the District of Columbia conducted a study, assigning a number of newly-hired women officers to patrol work traditionally reserved for male officers. The study observed the women for a year. Some of the key findings were significant:
- Women patrol officers tended to be more effective than their male counterparts in avoiding violence and defusing potentially violent situations.
- Women were less likely than men to engage in serious unbecoming conduct.
- Citizens involved in incidents with police officers had the same level of respect for and favorable attitudes toward patrol officers of both sexes.
Women were becoming a force to be reckoned with. Read on to learn more about the history of women in law enforcement.
History of Women in Law Enforcement
Today, women play a major role and are a respected part of the police force. But that didn’t happen without a lot of persistence. Historically, even at the police academy, women weren’t treated as equals. They had lower targets for physical ability and weren’t allowed to drive pursuit cars or shoot shotguns.
Then in the 1960s, some women police officers were allowed to work undercover in the Vice Squad to bust drug dealers and prostitution rings. But they still weren’t normally able to graduate out of the Women’s Bureau or become full patrol officers.
But times were changing. Eventually a group of New York policewomen sued to be able to test for promotions. After that, police departments across the U.S. were forced to desegregate and allow women into all levels of law enforcement. That opened the door for women to become sergeants, lieutenants and detectives.
Percentage of Women in Law Enforcement
Women in law enforcement make up about 15 percent of all state, municipal, and county police officers, according to the National Center for Women & Policing (NCWP). However, there is a great deal of variation in the percentages of women in different police agencies. In some large cities and counties, women account for over 20 percent of all officers, but in state police departments, they may account for less than 6 percent of officers.
Benefits of Women in Law Enforcement
Women in law enforcement bring a lot to the job, including offering different ways of dealing with conflict. Women may not have the brute strength of men, but their bravery, creativity and verbal skills make them ideal for the job. Many male police officers could learn a lot from their female counterparts. Some women now teach self-defense at police academies, since it’s been proven that size has nothing to do with being a good police officer.
If you think you have what it takes to become a police officer, contact the schools of your choice to learn about their criminal justice programs—especially if you plan on moving up the chain of command. Take your first step today toward finding an interesting and good-paying job. Enter the realm of the proud women in law enforcement.
Sources: A Different Shade of Blue: How Women Changed the Face of Police Work by Adam Eisenberg; Policefoundation.org