By Mandi Earley
The law enforcement industry has long been seen as a male-dominated “boy’s club,” and that’s not surprising. Despite the fact that the field has been evolving, both since 9/11 and with the advent of information technology taking over much of our communication needs, the number of women working in the industry has declined.
A study by the U.S. Bureau of Justice reported that the number of sworn officers who are female has grown only slightly in the two decades before 2007, and as of then, they represented 20% of officers employed by sheriff’s departments and local police forces across the country. In 2011, The FBI reported that women only represented 12% of those employed in all types of policing agencies across the country.
It’s not just law enforcement that is having this issue: the private security sector is struggling, as well. According to an article on Hewlett Packard’s community page, the percentage of women in the security industry has dropped from 11% in 2013 to 10% in 2016. The article offers some highlights from a panel discussion of women in security held at a recent RSA conference, where panelist Kerry Matre mentions dealing with snide remarks and inappropriate comments at security events.
When it comes to law enforcement, these instances may be even worse. A personal friend who has a beat at our county’s Sheriff’s office told me that she has dealt with several comments about how her being a female leads people to feel “less safe” or “not protected.” This might be a clue as to why the numbers of women in this field are so severely unequal–no one wants to deal with outward discrimination in their professional life, especially when they’re making an average of 21% less money than their male counterparts.
The numbers of women in the law enforcement and security fields are declining, despite the fact that women are growing in both numbers and influence in almost every other industry. It makes sense that not every field is going to be a 50/50 split, but the numbers here are so far skewed that it’s quite disheartening. This could be touted as a problem for many reasons: unequal representation, exclusionary policies, unfair prejudices against women’s physical and mental abilities, and so on and so forth. There are so many reasons, both feminist and general-human-rights-wise, to be upset about this disparity.
However, the biggest reason to be upset, and to get up and do something about it, is the fact that women are the key to America’s current police brutality problem. In recent years, police-involved shootings and deaths have gotten so out of hand that they’re even drawing the attention (and support, in the form of protest) of foreign political influencers. The fact that officer-involved shootings is on a sharp uptick is not the most disturbing part of the issue: even worse is the notion that police brutality in the U.S. is often racially motivated.
No reasonably intelligent or honest person believes every cop is racist, bad, or full of murderous rage. But if you’ve ever doubted that police brutality wasn’t a major and growing issue, check out this article by Rosa Brooks, a law professor at Georgetown University, which breaks it down into its separate, and very real components. And if you ever thought racial profiling was only a problem for “bad” cops, listen to this episode of This American Life, which details one Miami Garden man’s extreme experience with profiling, and ends with a second act that proves profiling of any sort is human nature.
I mentioned before that women are the key to solving these problems, and I wasn’t just speculating. This Washington Post Article cites several studies that show women truly can help to stop police brutality in the U.S. As early as 1974, female officers were found to be as capable as men, despite the fact that they “act less aggressively and they believe in less aggression,” and that their presence “may stimulate increased attention to the ways of avoiding violence and cooling violent situations without resorting to the use of force.”
That was back in 1974. When women first started joining the ranks of sworn officers in noticeable numbers. And as such, when they dealt with an almost omnipresent resistance borne of a belief that women just couldn’t be as good at this job as men.
There have been more studies since, one spanning 14 entire years, where researcher Joseph Balkin found that women were better able to diffuse potentially violent situations because they see their jobs as a public service, while “policemen see police work as involving control through authority.”
A 1992 report on police brutality in the LAPD found that females were substantially less likely to use excessive force than male officers, while A 2002 study done by the National Center for Women & Policing actually quantified their findings: men were 8.5 times more likely to have an excessive force complaint against them than women.
The numbers are there, and the females of the private security sector are there to back them up as well. Pamela Sharif, who’s been in the security industry for over ten years, says that women bring a unique set of traits to the industry, because they are more likely to diffuse as opposed to escalate situations, and they are adept at building teams. Megan Quinn, who entered the security field five years ago, says, “Women by nature, are very nurturing. We are the first ones to step in and throw away our pride to pass on knowledge. Women tend to bring calmness to an incident even with their presence.”
It’s clear that women do have the power to help cease the very real issue of police brutality, yet female officers, both public and private, are slowly waning in numbers. The question now is: what can we do to make women more comfortable in law enforcement? How can we attract them to these opportunities, and retain them once there?
Women have managed to quash preconceived notions of other male-dominated fields, and hopefully those blazing the trail currently will continue to inspire more women to pursue a career in law enforcement so we can watch those statistics rise up until the profession is no longer considered a “boys club” and Americans no longer have to feel afraid of those who are there to protect and serve them.
Mandi Earley is a personal chef and freelance writer from the Pacific Northwest. She is madly in love with root beer floats, the mountains surrounding her, and her adorable cat, Buddha.