High-speed car chases, shoot-outs and hostage situations may look great on film, but it’s not what police do every day. The reality is that 80% to 95% of police work is service-related, which includes conducting traffic stops, retrieving stolen property and locating missing persons.
The image of law enforcement perpetuated by Hollywood may have something to do with the underwhelming amount of women entering the field, according to Katherine Spillar, Executive Director of the Feminist Majority Foundation, a women’s rights organization. One of the foundation’s programs is the National Center for Women and Policing, which advocates for boosting the number of women in law enforcement. Spillar said police recruiting campaigns appeal to men, and believes departments should focus on hiring more female police officers, as mentioned in The Washington Post.
As of 2013, one in eight local police officers was female, including about one in 10 first-line supervisor positions, including the ranks of sergeant, lieutenant and captain, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. At that time, 12% (about 58,000) of officers were female, compared to just 8% in 1987.
In spite of low numbers of women in criminal justice, some are rising to lead some of the nation’s largest police departments and federal law enforcement agencies.
In 2016, both Phoenix and Atlanta appointed female police chiefs. Between 2009 and 2015 women were appointed to head the U.S. Marshals Service, U.S. Secret Service and Drug Enforcement Administration. These leaders are paving the way for women who are currently pursuing a career in criminal justice and giving them the confidence to break through the “brass” ceiling.
Joan Bauer, a mother and grandmother who’s worked in law enforcement for 26 years, went back to school for a BA in Criminal Justice from New England College to further her career. Bauer watched as younger officers received promotions while her career remained stagnant due to a lack of credentials.
“I would say to police officers that further education is very important,” Bauer said.
Although Bauer completed the police academy years earlier, it was not enough to reach supervisory positions. In order to reach her professional goals, Bauer juggled family, work and school and successfully graduated from NEC in 2016.
Why Women Are Needed in Law Enforcement
In an era where police brutality, claims of injustice and nationwide riots such as those in Ferguson, Missouri, in November 2014 and Baltimore in April 2015 are making headlines, police departments across the country face greater public scrutiny. As departments implement more specialized training, community policing efforts and even body cameras, studies show that hiring more women may prevent police altercations from escalating into violent situations.
Numerous studies conducted over the past 40 years indicate women are less likely to show aggression and draw their weapons and are more likely to defuse a situation without using force. According to the National Center for Women and Policing, only 5% of citizen complaints of excessive force and 2% of sustained allegations of excessive force in large agencies involve women officers.
In 1974, a study sponsored by the Police Foundation revealed that women who faced the same kinds of situations as men (violent, drunk or angry individuals) were found to be just as capable of handling the situation. One of the key findings in that study found that “women act less aggressively and they believe in less aggression.”
A 1997 study conducted by the National Center for Women and Policing found that women favor a community-oriented approach and emphasizes conflict resolution over force. Other findings indicated that female officers were more effective at responding to violence against women, which at the time accounted for up to 50% of calls to police.
The reality is, women are underrepresented in a field where studies indicate they may aid in non-violent resolutions. Women may not have the same physical skills or brute strength as their male counterparts, but their voice, presence and bravery aid them in successfully dealing with conflict through effective communication.