In the early 70's, many women were still issued impractical uniforms that included skirts and heals. In wasn't until the late 70's that equipment belts designed for women were available.
There are still issues with uniforms, especially in departments with few women. According to Donna Milgram, executive director of the Institute for Women in Trades, Technology and Science (IWITTS), "Most gear is designed for male officers and is based on tests with male officers, and cut down versions don't really work for women. Improperly fitting equipment, and uniforms pose a health and safety hazard which could endanger the lives of police officers and of others" (Policeone.com)
President Richard Nixon's 1969 executive order ending the FBI's ban on hiring women as special agents had been a step in the right direction. However, the most significant piece of legislation to usher in the modern era of law enforcement for women came in 1972.
An amendment to the 1964 Civil Rights Act gave the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) power to enforce anti-discrimination laws for state and local government agencies--including police departments. Women began being hired in greater numbers, attending regular police academies, and receiving promotions to supervisory positions across the country. These advances were not showing up equally in every department.
"An analysis of the UCR data showed that most of the police agencies reporting to the FBI did not employ any policewomen in 2003," (Policechiefmagazine.org). While large agencies and campus police departments integrated women into patrol positions, many small, rural departments still do not have female officers.
Hiring officials say they hire the best person for the job, but complain that there are few female applicants (Pennlive.com). Recruitment still lags behind need.
Diversity is important in law enforcement. Chief James Adams of Upper Allen Twp. Police Department in Pennsylvania said, "If you look at our client base, we have significant victims, witnesses, people we arrest, who are female. I'm not saying it's 50-50, but right now we're 100 percent male as far as sworn staff" (Pennlive.com).
- 1972: An amendment to the 1964 Civil Rights Act gave the EEOC power to enforce anti-discrimination laws for state and local government agencies.
- 1980: The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) formally defined sexual harassment and classified it as a form of sexual discrimination under the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
- 1985: Penny Harrington became first female police chief for a major city, (Portland, Oregon).
- 1992: Jacquelyn Barrett elected as first black female sheriff (Fulton County, Georgia).
- 1993: Margaret M. Moore, first female to serve as the head of an ATF field office (Baltimore, MD).
- 1994: Beverly J. Harvard selected first African American woman to serve as chief of police for a large city, (Atlanta, Georgia).
- 1995: The National Center for Women & Policing and the National Association of Women Law Enforcement Executives were founded.
- 1999: Women in Federal Law Enforcement organization was incorporated.
- 2003: The majority of U.S. agencies did not employ female law enforcement officers.
- 2011: Women comprise 13% of law enforcement personnel.
- 2013: Julia Pierson appointed by President Obama as first female Secret Service Director.
"In 1973, a sergeant with the LAPD, Fanchon Blake, sued after she and other female police sergeants were not allowed to take the lieutenant's exam because they were women. She won. A similar lawsuit filed against the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department by Sue Bouan in 1980 was eventually settled in 1988" (Policemag.com). These lawsuits helped improve hiring and promotional practices for women. However, some of the pioneers, like Bouman, confronted a backlash from peers for the rest of their careers.
Sexual harassment and hazing were common roadblocks for new female officers in the 1970's. Patty Fogerson, ret. detective supervisor III, worked as a police officer with the LAPD from 1969 to 1994. She talked about her early years on the department. "Phrases like sexual harassment and hostile work environment didn't exist back then. I was able to work robbery and detectives, background investigations, and was one of the first female drill instructors in the academy. I just got along and survived in the beginning, then things settled down" (Policemag.com).
As of 1998, there were few mentoring programs designed to support women in law enforcement (Policemag.com). Women in small departments where they may be the only female patrol officer sometimes find support through national organizations.
Benefits of Women in Law Enforcement
Rather than having a tendency to fuel an already violent situation, female officers are more likely to use communication skills to try to calm the situation. Some victims may find talking with female officers less intimidating than reporting to male officers. Chiefs point out that there are situations in which the department may open itself up to liability when only relying on male officers in sensitive situations with female victims and suspects.
While some are concerned about women not being as big and strong as some male officers, others don't see this as a major issue. There are many tools, including tasers and firearms, that simply do not rely on strength. In most situations, all officers would be better off if they relied on tactics and skills rather than strength.
Now that women play a more active role in the military, some female applicants bring military experience and tactical skills to the job.
Although uncommon, women have served as police chiefs, sheriffs, and assistant directors of federal agencies. Women have formed supportive organizations including the International Association of Women Police, The National Center for Women & Policing, The National Association of Women Law Enforcement Executives, and Women in Federal Law Enforcement.
There are still firsts left for women in law enforcement. In fact, Julia Pierson was just selected by President Obama to be the Secret Service director on March 26, 2013. She will be the first woman to hold that post. After working as a police officer for three years at the Orlando Police Department, she joined the Secret Service. She rose through the ranks over the last 30 years (www.cfnews13.com). Some believe that she is entrusted with changing the male-dominated culture of the agency which allowed for a prostitution scandal in 2012 (Washingtonpost.com).
The International Association of Chiefs of Police released a report on "The Future of Women in Policing" (Criminaljusticeschoolinfo.com). These were their findings:
- Given the variety of circumstances faced by law enforcement officers, it has been found that women can be just as effective and even more effective in certain scenarios.
- Women often show a high degree of competency in intellectual and strategic situations and can diffuse potentially dangerous situations with great skill
- Women still face discrimination, sexual harassment, and peer intimidation in their roles
- As role models at higher levels of law enforcement increase, the number of women interested increases
- The media has recently made a shift and portrayed women as competent and effective law enforcement personnel, which is helpful for changing societal assumptions
- More than two-thirds of current criminal justice students polled are in support of additional women law enforcement officers
- Women law enforcement officers are especially effective in carrying out the new community model of policing, which is less reactive and more proactive
Women's role in law enforcement has grown significantly in the last 140 years (see Women in Law Enforcement: The Early Years). Yet, women hold only 13% of law enforcement jobs, and only 7% of supervisory positions (Criminaljusticeschoolinfo.com). Many small departments still have no females among their sworn officers. Unlike their male counterparts, female officers frequently feel the need to prove themselves daily. Perseverance has allowed women to make contributions and attain increasingly more powerful roles in law enforcement.
Criminal Justice School Info, "Women in Law Enforcement," www.criminaljusticeschoolinfo.com, (accessed 4-2-2013).
Horne, Peter, "Policewomen: Their First Century and the New Era," www.policechiefmagazine.org, September, 2006.
Miller, Barbara, "Female Police Officers are Rare but Sought After for Unique Skills," www.pennLive.com, 12-8-2012.
National Law Enforcement Officer Museum, "Women in Law Enforcement Photo Timeline," www.NLEOMF.org, (accessed 3-20-2013).
News 13, "Orlando's Julia Pierson Named 1st Woman Secret Service Head," www.cfnews13.com, 3-26-2013.
Scoville, Dean, "The First Female Patrol Officers," www.policemag.com, 9-21-2012.
Stone, Rebecca, "Sam Browne and Beyond: A Look at Duty Belts," www.policeone.com, Nov. 2000.
Wilson, Scott, "Obama to Name Julia Pierson as New Secret Service Director," www.washintonpost.com, 3-26-2013.