Female Police Officers Still Not Considered Equals

As matrons, females have had a place in law enforcement since the 19th century. Los Angeles hired Alice Stebbins Wells in 1910, as the first female police officer (Dodge et al. 2004) with full police officer authority. While times have certainly changed since then, when the female officer’s role was mostly secretarial, it can still be argued that the advancements made are not enough to claim that male and female police officers are equal. Female officers often complain of feeling stereotyped.

Ronald Burke, Astrid Richardsen, and Monica Martinussen (2006) wrote that females tend to “handle more domestic and child-related incidents” (p. 514), as opposed to the men who handle situations with bigger threats of violence. This is probably due to the misconception that all women are physically weaker than men.. On some departments, females are actually hired to be trained as decoy prostitutes in solicitation stings. According to Mary Dodge, Donna Starr-Gimeno, and Thomas Williams (2004), the “decoy stings regulate women officers to a position of powerlessness and subjugation” (p.72).

Some women don’t mind the task, yet others complain that “the ridicule from male officers may undermine the authority and confidence of women who act as decoys” (p. 82). The fact is, however, there is no task that is as degrading to male officers as pretending to be a prostitute is for many female officers. Males authority figures justify this act by claiming that cleaning up prostitution also cleans up drug dealing and abuse, sexual assaults on the women by the “johns,” and even murder of the prostitutes.

According to Burke et al. (2004), female officers “experience more sexual harassment from colleagues and the civilian public than do males” (p. 514). The same report concludes that women also suffer from discrimination and lack of equal opportunity. With regard to equal opportunity, Abby Goodnough (1997) wrote, “Most suburban police departments still employ only a handful of female officers, and hundreds have none at all” (p. B1).

Goodnough also wrote, “In 1995, the last year for which national figures are available, only 5.3 percent of police officers were women” (p. B1). Goodnough quoted detective Kimberly Turiano of the Cherry Hill, New Jersey police department as saying women who want to be officers must “be a pain,” so that police departments don’t overlook them. Goodnough’s article also addressed discrimination. She wrote that may people believ that even when females get hired onto an department they cannot pass the physical fitness test required in most academies, like the one in Sea Girt, New Jersey. There are other types of discrimination.

Rebecca Porter (2005) wrote, “The Tenth Circuit has reinstated the sex discrimination claims of two female Albuquerque police officers who were forced to use sick time for leave they took under the Family and Medical leave act (FMLA), while men taking FMLA were allowed to use compensatory time” (para. 1). The case was brought about when Cynthia Orr of the Albuquerque Police Department, who was forced to use sick hours during the time surrounding her child’s birt. Her husband, Stephen, who also worked for the APD, was able to use compensatory time. Patricia Paiz, also of APD, had to use sick time for the birth of her child.

In fact, she came back to work earlier than she wanted to so she wouldn’t deplete her sick hours. The male deputy chief of the APD testified that he, too, was allowed to used compensatory time during his FMLA absence. The personnell director stated that she would go back to change Stephen Orr’s and the deputy chief’s records to show a deduction of sick time, but years later, the change had never been made. In New York, in 1991, the Human Right Commission ruled in favor of women who proved that they were given “second-rate assignments, which limited their experience and chances for advancement” (p.B7).

James Barron (1995) wrote that the women would receive anywhere from $514,000 to $669, 000. The back pay was awarded as an estimate of wages lost due to being paid less than male officers, as well as lost wages when the department refused to promote them. All of these incidences led Dodge et al. (2004) to believe that, “Despite the substantial inroads that have been made by policewomen in recent decades, participation in certain assignments remains limited and marginalised” (p. 72).

Barbara Raffel Price (1996) agrees. She wrote, “The research literature also reveals that in entering police work women have encountered enormous difficulties, primarily as a result of the negative attitudes of the men. Male officers anticipate women failing (Brookshire 1980); they doubt women can equal men in most job skills (Bloch and Anderson 1974); they do not see women officers as doing "real" police work (Melchionne 1976); and they perpetuate myths about women's lack of emotional fitness (Bell 1982)” (para. 7).

She added that the problems American police officers face are the same as female officers in Europe, Eastern Europe, Asia and Latin America” (para. 8). Other studies show Norway and Australia face similar situations. The fact is, sadly, that we might have come a long way, but we still have much further to go. It is far too soon for back-patting, when women are still underrepresented, illegitimized and discriminated against based solely on gender. This article discusses but a few of the struggles of the lady officer.

Not discussed are the double standards women with families face in the work place, the lack of mentor and support programs for female officers, or the fact that there has been a severe decline in the writing about female cops’ challenges, since the ‘80s. With most issues, education is the key. Female officers need to be properly educated on how to handle a results-driven campaign for equal rights, and oppressors need to remember the (paraphrased) statement of Martin Luther King, Jr.: An injustice anywhere (or to anyone) is a threat to justice everywhere (and to everybody).


Barron, J. (1995). Court gives female officers back pay in bias suit. New York Times, 145(50283), B7. Retrieved on March 31, 2007 from the ProQuest Historical newspapers database. Burke, R. J. , Richardsen, A. M. ,  & Martinussen, M. (2006). Gender differences in policing: reasons for optimism? Policing: An International Journal of Police Strategies & Management, 29(3), 513-523. Retrieved Saturday, March 31, 2007 from the Electronic Journal Center database.