March 31, 2022
It’s been 48 years since the National Policing Institute completed a group of surveys and subsequently published Women in Policing: A Manual, and despite its age, it continues to receive attention. The Manual was the culmination of findings from a survey, an evaluation, and a symposium, all designed to examine the roles women play in policing and the implications of bringing more women into the profession. It emphasized the impact women can have and offered suggestions for how women can participate fully as officers and leaders.
A few years later, in 1981, NPI published a landmark follow-up report, A Progress Report on Women in Policing, which analyzed the effects of specific personnel practices designed to support women in law enforcement. The report indicated that more departments were eliminating barriers for women in terms of promotion, yet today, women still make up only 13% of law enforcement.
Back in the 1970’s when officers were asked what they thought having a female partner added to the job, one female officer responded:
“Well, I felt we added a lot more understanding, compassion. We were… patient. We weren’t so quick to judge people and I guess that is where the female came out of us—we weren’t so quick to resort to violence…”
That officer’s “feeling” is now a well-documented fact. Recent studies indicate that women in law enforcement tend to exhibit more personable characteristics and behaviors than men. See, for example, a few facts:
Women officers are…
- Less likely to use lethal force and be named in complaints against the police. (Van Ness, L. (2021). Percentage of women in state policing has stalled since 2000. The Pew Charitable Trusts. https://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/blogs/stateline/2021/10/20/percentage-of-women-in-state-policing-has-stalled-since-2000
- More likely to have high levels of interpersonal skills and use traits (such as empathy) that encourage communication and de-escalation in tense situations. (Roman, I. (2020). Women in policing. Police Chief Magazine. https://www.policechiefmagazine.org/women-in-policing/
- Consistently viewed as trusted by their local communities. (Smith, B. B. (2019). Police history: The evolution of women in American law enforcement. Police1. https://www.police1.com/police-history/articles/police-history-the-evolution-of-women-in-american-law-enforcement-wMo8P1wLSxGQRes9/
- More emotionally equipped in addressing violence against women and sex crimes. (Fritsvold, E. (2021). Why we need more women working in law enforcement. University of San Diego. https://onlinedegrees.sandiego.edu/women-in-law-enforcement/)
As data continue to show the value and strengths women bring to law enforcement during a time of decreased perceptions about police legitimacy, NPI’s two reports will likely continue to be key resources for those who are exploring ways to create more welcoming environments for women. For additional reading, see Women in Policing: A Manual and A Progress Report on Women in Policing.
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