Women in law enforcement work in municipal agencies, state agencies, or federal agencies. Municipal agencies include city, county, and campus law enforcement. State agencies include state police, vehicle enforcement, highway patrol, and other state specialty organizations such as state bureaus of investigations or multipurpose organizations such as the Texas Rangers. Federal agencies include specialty organizations that serve the nation, such as the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Currently more women are employed in municipal organizations than in any other type of law enforcement organization; however, women are more highly represented proportionally in federal organizations.
An accurate representation of the numbers of women in law enforcement is difficult at best primarily due to the inconsistency of data collection. Currently, women represent an average of 10.6% in local municipal organizations and 12.5% in sheriff’s organizations, and they range from 1% to 14% in state law enforcement agencies and from 8.6% to 28% in federal agencies. In 1975, women represented only 2.2% of personnel in municipal organizations (Martin and Jurik 1996). Is an 8.4% increase over the course of thirty years notable? Perhaps so, but not in ways that support the strides women have made and barriers that have been overcome.
An examination of women in law enforcement is no different than any other examination of women in a nontraditional occupation, which is an occupation with less than 25% of the gender that is not stereotypically considered appropriate for the occupation. Hence, law enforcement is a nontraditional occupation for women. Stereotypical perceptions of gender role expectations dictate what is considered ”appropriate behavior” for women in both their public and private lives. Women are to conform to traditional feminine activities to appease society and fit into proper occupations. Women in law enforcement have struggled since the early 1800s to survive in the world of law enforcement, and hopefully to succeed and be recognized as a valued part of the law enforcement organization, as are their male counterparts.
History and Legal Mandates
Schulz (1995) divides the history of women’s participation in law enforcement into six eras: (1) Forerunners: The Matrons, 1820-1899; (2) The Early Policewomen,1900-1928; (3) Depression Losses, 19291941; (4) World War II and the 1940s; (5) Paving the Way for Patrol, 1950-1967; and (6) Women Become Crime Fighters, 1968-Present. Women’s presence in law enforcement, as is apparent in Schulz’s work, has been significantly influenced by social movements of the times. As gender roles have developed over time, so have women’s roles in policing. In the first historical phase of women in law enforcement, the ”matron” era, women were performing tasks exclusively associated with their gender role expectations. For example, women primarily dealt with children and juvenile offenders, and female victims of crime. As time progressed, women’s roles in law enforcement changed, as did their socially defined gender roles. Much of this change can be accounted for by the limited availability of male personnel due to the U.S. involvement in wars. While law enforcement was not the only occupation affected by the limited number of males available, the shortage of males did prompt administrators to hire more women to ”fill in the gaps” left by the men, which also meant that women had to perform duties traditionally performed only by men.
After war efforts subsided and men were again more available for employment in law enforcement, some women were still kept in positions that were historically for men only. Leaving these women in place essentially paved the way for hiring more women for a greater variety of work in law enforcement. Simultaneously, significant social movements of the late 1960s and 1970s gave rise to the largest increases of women in law enforcement the United States has ever known.
Legal mandates such as the Equal Pay Act of 1963, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968, the Equal Employment Opportunity Act of 1972, the Crime Control Act of 1973, and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 have each affected women’s equal opportunities in law enforcement. The Equal Pay Act of 1963 was one of the first pieces of legislation that provided a guarantee, albeit a limited one, of pay equity. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, while primarily written to deal with race discrimination, affected other discriminatory practices, including discrimination based on religion, sex, and national origin. Additionally, Title VII made it illegal for private employers with twenty-five or more employees to discriminate in recruitment, hiring, working conditions, promotion, or other employment practices. It was not until 1972, however, that Title VII was extended to state and local governments, including law enforcement agencies, through the Equal Opportunity Employment Act. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which oversees the enforcement of Title VII, was also created in 1972.
The Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968 created the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration (LEAA), which provided numerous opportunities for education and training for law enforcement personnel. Women and men of color were significantly affected because this was the first time such opportunities had been made available to them. In 1973, the Crime Control Act prohibited discrimination against women in any agency that obtained LEAA funds.
The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 prohibited discrimination against women for pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions. Employers were required to treat these conditions as any other type of temporary disability; therefore, women would not be improperly penalized for having children.
In addition to legislation, significant court cases have affected opportunities for women in law enforcement, including Griggs v. Duke Power Company (1971), Meritor Savings Bank FSB v. Vinson (1986), and Harris v. Forklift Systems, Inc. (1993). The Griggs case dealt primarily with bona fide occupational qualifications (BFOQs) and required that employer’s must demonstrate BFOQs for jobs and use no other selection standard. What this meant for women in law enforcement was that previous exclusions often dealing with height and weight requirements were no longer valid.
Meritor Savings Bank FSB v. Vinson dealt primarily with issues of sexual harassment, reinforcing the legislation in Title VII. The Court in Meritor upheld the prohibition of both quid pro quo and hostile work environment as specified in Title VII. Harris v. Forklift Systems, Inc., also dealt with a hostile work environment. In this case, the Court relaxed the standard for what constitutes a hostile work environment, indicating that a hostile work environment does not require extreme psychological damage to an individual, and may be considered as such with less damage instead.
The importance of research cannot be understated. Occupational research is primarily used to describe the current status of workers in a profession, to identify challenges and barriers for workers, and to make policy recommendations. Ideally, academicians who typically conduct research collaborate with professionals in the field to identify important research questions or current issues.
Most of what we know about women in law enforcement comes from research looking at women in large municipal, or local, law enforcement organizations. Minimal research examining women in state, federal, or small municipal organizations exists. There are many more municipal law enforcement organizations than state and federal, but limited research and anecdotal evidence indicates that women in all three types of law enforcement organizations have similar experiences in the workplace.
More specifically, the majority of research on women and law enforcement has examined issues of women’s competency, attitudes toward and of women in law enforcement, stress, legal issues, and descriptions of the current population of women in the field. Multiple methods have been used to conduct the research including survey research, evaluation research, participant observation, and qualitative case studies. In more recent years, survey research using the Internet has become a popular method for gathering data.
Issues of women’s competency in law enforcement were not significantly questioned until women were allowed to do patrol work in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Prior to this time period, women had been primarily used to perform tasks that were considered at the time reasonable for a woman to do, such as working with juvenile offenders or doing administrative tasks. After women’s inclusion in patrol work, research increased significantly, in hopes of determining whether or not women could adequately meet the challenges of their male counterparts. During this time period (primarily 1970s) there were nine evaluations of women in different jurisdictions using various methods. The jurisdictions included Washington, D.C. (Bloch and Anderson 1974), St. Louis (Sherman 1975), New York City (Sichel et al. 1977), Denver (Bartlett and Rosenblum 1977), Newton, Massachusetts (Kizziah and Morris 1977), Philadelphia, Phases I and II (Bartell Associates 1978), California (California Highway Patrol 1976), and Pennsylvania (Pennsylvania State Police 1974). With the exception of the second phase of the Philadelphia study, all of these works found women to be as competent as their male counterparts. Most of these works were undertaken in large municipal organizations or large state organizations.Only one, in Newton, Massachusetts, was undertaken in a medium-sized organization.
Research on women in law enforcement has continued with various focuses since the early works examining competency. A number of attitudinal works followed the competency works of the 1970s, including examinations of women’s attitudes toward their work (Bloch and Anderson 1974; Worden 1993; Zhao, Thurman, and He 1999), as well as attitudes of male officers and the public. Research examining women’s attitudes toward their work has focused on variables such as job satisaction, perceptions of discrimination, and perceptions of utilization. Researchers have found that some male officers believe that women are ineffective and incompetent in their jobs (Bloch and Anderson 1974; Balkin 1988; Hindman 1975; Linden 1983; Vega and Silverman 1982; Martin 1980; Charles and Parson 1978). Finally, some researchers have examined public perceptions of women in law enforcement.
International Women in Law Enforcement
While descriptions of, and research in, women in law enforcement in the United States are somewhat lacking, information for international women in law enforcement is even more limited. Challenges to gathering this information include the paucity of source materials, lack of conceptual frameworks, and difficulties with cross-cultural comparisons. The European Network of Policewomen (ENP) has been instrumental in attempting to paint a picture of women in law enforcement abroad, with their biannual report, Facts, Figures and General Information, which began in 1989 with a total of six issues being completed. The reports began with a response rate of 18% in 1989 and had risen to 50% for the last report, which was done in 2000. The report is one of the only comprehensive assessments of the status of women in policing internationally and provides a general overview of women in European police forces.
Cross-cultural research on women is limited, with Heidensohn (1992, 2000), Brown (1997), and Brown and Heidensohn (2000) being the most current and comprehensive works. Much of their work is comparisons on women in policing in the United Kingdom and the United States. However, in their most recent work, they surveyed women in thirty-five countries, with assistance from organizations and associations. They examined a variety of issues including discrimination, coping, support, and self-efficacy as related to the police culture. The authors proposed a taxonomy with which to examine police organizations, and in doing this they have provided a framework for future efforts, as well as insight into the current status of women internationally.
Organizations for Women in Law Enforcement
Useful strategies that facilitate success for women in policing include networking and mentoring. Key to networking and mentoring are professional associations for women in policing. Associations provide not only training opportunities, but also avenues for women to meet other women in similar places, and share their experiences, challenges, and lessons learned. Current professional associations for women in law enforcement include, but are not limited to, the International Association of Women in Police (IAWP), the European Network of Policewomen (ENP), the National Center for Women and Policing (NCWP), the National Association of Women Law Enforcement Executives (NAWLEE), the Australasian Council of Women and Policing (ACWAP), and the Women in Federal Law Enforcement (WIFLE), as well as numerous local and regional affiliates.
While women’s opportunities and status have increased during the last three decades, much progress can still be gained. Women have moved out of the stereotypical positions of dealing with juveniles and other women, to positions of leadership in municipal organizations that serve major metropolitan cities. Women have also made strides in professional organizations, taking leadership roles in organizations in which they have historically been denied leadership.
With numerous changes in the landscape of contemporary law enforcement taking place on a daily basis, we may see women being utilized in even more areas and for a variety of tasks, as gender norms are further broken down, with primary consideration given to who the best candidate is for the job and to who can perform at the optimum levels at which societal expectations are set.
See also: National Association of Women Law Enforcement Executives (NAWLEE)
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