This archived article was written by: Lindsey Elias
Every day, law enforcement agencies add female officers. Like many other male-dominated fields, gender disparity has been found in most law enforcement agencies across the United States. However, women’s entrance into the field has been progression over centuries.
In 1838, the first US police department was established in Boston, Mass.; however, the first woman “patrolman” was hired in Chicago in 1893. Despite her title, the position carried more of a social worker’s role. She worked with women and children and did not patrol. The Los Angeles Police Department hired the first “policewoman,” Alice Wells, in 1910. While her duties were limited, in 1915, she created the International Association of Women Police that continues today to provide mentoring and education to female officers. Women became much more prominent during World War II. However, in the 1970s, federal records show that only two percent of women made up the police workforce. Since that time, women officers at times make up to 25 percent of some law enforcement agencies, both federal and local. However, the national average lingers at about 15 percent, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.
One of the debates that has ensued among law enforcement professionals, and scholars, is if a possible solution to the increased tension surrounding police brutality is female officers. A study on excessive force led by the National Center for Women and Policing concluded that women are eight and a half times less likely to have a sustained claim of brutality than their male counterparts. When speaking with Mikayla Shemansky, a custody officer for the Ocean City Maryland Police Department, some of these findings were reaffirmed. “A lot of people aren’t scared of female officers so they let their guard down. [It’s a] benefit for the blue line there… They just generally talk to people differently than male officers.” Some of the opposition to women in the police force is the possible effect on children if mothers are injured in the line of duty. These notions lead to more traditional roles for women, although, mothers considering becoming officers do have this risk in mind. Frankie Ori, Sociology and Criminal Justice student at USU Eastern, has considered starting police training. Her drawbacks to beginning POST (Peace Officer Standards and Training) are fears of deadly injury and “leaving my kids without a mom.” One of her biggest considerations toward it, however, are the “opportunity to help someone change their life by hopefully making a positive impact in their life and showing them that some people in law enforcement do care.”
Whether or not women are the solution for issues that American society faces in policing today is debatable. However, the evidence is clear that female officers are rising in numbers and rank in our law enforcement. Time has shown, that women will continue to break the barriers that once held them back from excelling in their field.