Women have played a role in law enforcement for a long time. Their role, however, has been underestimated and understated because of the male dominance of the law enforcement field. A lot of time and effort has been spent in breaking down walls and quieting stereotypes about the role and place of women in law enforcement.
Much progress has been made and more women have become employed in different capacities in the law enforcement field as times have changed, but it’s still not an uneven playing field when it comes to the balance of men and women in law enforcement. It remains one of the career fields where women have the most difficulty in attaining equality among their male counterparts.
Recruiting and hiring practices play a great role in understanding the aspect of women trying to break into a male-dominated occupational field. A lot of women may be eliminated from contention for certain law enforcement jobs quite early on in the hiring process, for a number of reasons. There are entry exams that sometimes prove to be hurdles, because of their possible reliance on physical abilities and previous law enforcement experience.
The physical aspect of some law enforcement jobs may prove to be too daunting. For example, in police academy training, the majority of the program involves emphasizing the need and usage of physical abilities, and some female recruits may be weeded out, not only because of the harshness of the training, but also because of the harshness of some of the trainers.
Also, women don’t always pursue certain opportunities as aggressively as they possibly should, because they may feel that they don’t have a chance, because of the male dominance in the field, and stereotypes long-associated with different aspects of law enforcement. Sometimes, prospective employers may balk on or eliminate female candidates, despite otherwise solid qualifications, because they may not seem to be suited for a certain job, or if they do hire them, might place them into positions that are more ‘female-friendly,’ like secretarial or clerical positions.
However, it’s been proven, in law enforcement and in many other fields of employment and through society, that women are just as competent as men are, and can do the duties required of them without a problem. The physical side of law enforcement, from an impartial standpoint, may understandably present issues, but there are definitely ways to work around that.
However, it remains that one of the most glaring issues in hiring practices and mindsets between male and female law enforcement officers is evident in situations that call for the use of some form of excessive physical force. For example, in a situation involving a male suspect who is comparatively bigger than the female officer who is on the scene, the officer quite likely may be at a great disadvantage in physical strength if it’s one-on-one situation.
This is by no means an indictment on the physical abilities of women, but male police officers are typically just a little more physically equipped to handle situations that require the usage of brute strength. If a suspect needs to be restrained, becomes belligerent and attempts to attack the officer(s), or attempts to flee, upper body strength and fleetness of foot are two physical attributes where male officers typically have the advantage.
And, it’s not even always so much as having to go to the point of exerting that physical ability in a confrontation. Just the presence can be enough. A large male officer is far more intimidating to the average suspect, male or female, than a female officer, however big or small she may be. However, a female officer’s strengths lie in the skills to be able to avert having to resort to a physical confrontation. That’s one asset that makes hiring a female law enforcement officer a plus, unless of course, the situation just escalates beyond control and calls for the use of force, in which case, the female officers have the means to properly handle the situation.
Female officers may be hired on the basis of strong communication skills that might override any comparative physical limitations. Those skills are useful in helping to relax tense situations and stem what could potentially turn into something more serious. A male police officer may be more liable to go to physical means much quicker than a female officer might, but a female officer might make more of an effort to exhaust every line of verbal communication before physical force comes into play. It may not exactly be described as tenderness, but that stern, almost motherly aspect enables situations to be handled with calmness.
The emphasis on communication skills is one that should be made greater, in this current time, due to many publicized cases where physical force was used too quickly or too excessively, resulting in serious or fatal injury to a suspect and the subsequent filing of lawsuits on behalf of the ‘victims” families.
The National Center for Women and Policing is one that has played a great part in trying to better the world of law enforcement. It has provided a number of tools to help law enforcement agencies evaluate and change their recruiting and hiring practices, and it has also provided extensive research that shows the value of using brains as opposed to brawn. That research would seem to favor women, but still, many job positions in the police field are determined with physical strength in mind.
The potential workplace environment may present some hesitancies on the part of women wanting to work in law enforcement. A testosterone-filled workplace may not seem too friendly to a woman. They may not only be fighting for respect among some of their male colleagues, but they also may find it difficult to achieve that sense of belonging in the environment. This is an issue that may be magnified when it applies to a woman who may be considered physically attractive.
She may be subjected to sexual harassment from some of her of co-workers or superiors, and not only that, her qualifications may be diminished and called into question. A male employee may feel that his female counterpart is inferior or unable to perform her job duties adequately, or he may go as far as saying that she only got her position because of how attractive she is, and not on the merits of her actual qualifications, education, and experience.
Extensive efforts have and must continue to be made to ensure the necessary respect of all employees, regardless of race, gender, or even sexual orientation, and it falls on the individual agencies and employees to do what they can to ensure that the workplace environment is a healthy and inviting one for current and future employees.
Many agencies and programs have been designed to help change recruiting and hiring practices and to do a great deal to try to push more women into the law enforcement field, and making that field a level one. Training is available through certain agencies for those who want to work in law enforcement and have the means to handle themselves properly despite physical shortcomings that might otherwise hold them back. There are also mandatory employment standards set that require a certain amount of consideration and positions to be given to female candidates and employees.
This is one aspect where efforts must continue to be stepped up and monitored closely, because these standards are not always heeded. Some employers just don’t make the necessary effort to change and look past certain factors, and as unfortunate as it is, that’s just one more obstacle that will take time to overcome. So many regulations, company policies, and programs can be created and implemented, but there has to be cooperation from employers and employees, and female employees just have to continue to prove their merits through their everyday duties.
Women have come a long way in the field of law enforcement, but it’s obvious that there is still a long way to go. Males still dominate the law enforcement field, and, it goes without saying that they always will. But, there’s no reason to think that more women shouldn’t be able to break into the law enforcement field and have successful careers. Men may be stronger, and the environment may be more conducive to male dominance, but women should not feel inferior or be made to feel inferior because of gender.
The chauvinism that takes place in the law enforcement field may not always be intentional, but it is still far from being wiped out. But, that’s where individual agencies have to take the initiative, look past the past, squash the stereotypes, and try to bring the playing field as close to 100 percent level as possible. And just as much as the agencies have a responsibility to make women welcome in law enforcement, women have a responsibility to stand up regardless of the obstacles they may face, and that is one case where their actions must speak louder than their words.
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National Center for Women and Policing. Retrieved 9 November 2006 from the Feminist Majority
Foundation’s National Center for Women and Policing website: http://www.womenandpolicing.org/. People and events: women in law enforcement. Retrieved 9 November 2006 from PBS’ website: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/dillinger/peopleevents/p_women.html.
Recruiting and retaining women: a self-assessment guide for law enforcement. National Center for
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