Women Policing: Busting the Gender Barrier in Law Enforcement Careers

By Riseling, Susan | Resources for Gender and Women's Studies: A Feminist Review, Summer-Fall 2011 | Go to article overview

Women Policing: Busting the Gender Barrier in Law Enforcement Careers


Riseling, Susan, Resources for Gender and Women's Studies: A Feminist Review


Dorothy Moses Schulz, BREAKING THE BRASS CEILING: WOMEN POLICE CHIEFS & THEIR PATHS TO THE TOP. Westport, CT: Praeger, 2004. 264p. notes, bibl, index. $46.95, ISBN 978-0275981808.

Adam Eisenberg, A DIFFERENT SHADE OF BLUE: HOW WOMEN CHANGED THE FACE OF POLICE WORK. Lake Forest, CA: Behler, 2009. 245p. pap., $15.95, ISBN 978-1933016566.

Robert L. Snow, POLICEWOMEN WHO MADE HISTORY: BREAKING THROUGH THE RANKS. Plymouth, UK: Rowman & Littlefield, 2010. 208p. notes, bibl. index. $34.95, ISBN 978-1442200333.

Stacy Dittrich, STUMBLING ALONG THE BEAT: A POLICEWOMAN'S UNCENSORED STORY FROM THE WORLD OF LAW ENFORCEMENT New York: Kaplan, 2010. 272p. $24.95, ISBN 978-1607140566.

Sometimes the only person who believes you can succeed is you. Add die reality that there are people in this world who wish to harm you emotionally and professionally--through no fault of your own. Others will harm you physically, and in some cases with deadly force. Then add the most important component: you willfully and voluntarily placed yourself in this situation.

Welcome to the world of being a woman and wanting to be a police officer--not a policewoman or policeman bur a police officer. Until the 1960s, policewomen in American law enforcement were assigned to cases involving women or children, while policemen did the heavy lifting of policing and patrol--responding to homicides, fights, tactical operations, robberies, and "real" crime. The blending of these worlds turned policewomen and policemen into police officers. The transition was anything but easy, but as the four books reviewed here illustrate, in those fifty-some years since that transition began, women have changed policing for the better, both for the profession and for the communities they have the honor of serving.

The authors of three of these books served as police officers, the fourth as a court commissioner. Two of those who worked in policing were women; one of the two, Dorothy Moses Schulz, attained the rank of captain. The fourth author, Robert Snow, also served in policing and attained the rank of captain.

All four of these books focus on rich storytelling rather than on presenting empirical data. Three of the four place those stories in a historic and professional context--the broader story of women in a profession that didn't want them to enter and tried to make it hard for them to stay. The fourth--Stacy Dittrich's Stumbling Along the Beat--offers a personal memoir that, although similar to the stories of many women police officers, is uniquely Dittrich's own.

Robert Snow, who has authored ten other books, focuses Policewomen Who Made History on two policewomen--Elizabeth Coffal and Betty Campbell, two of the first women to enter police patrol operations in America. Their efforts began that transition from "policewomen and policemen" to "police officers."

Snow traces the history of women in policing in the United States from 1845 to 1968 before telling the story of Coffal and Campbell, two remarkable partners in the first all-female squad car in the Indianapolis police department. Their first day on patrol was September 10, 1968. Snow does a masterful job of explaining policing in that era and using Coffal and Campbells experience to demonstrate the profound changes women would make in the profession over time.

Coffal and Campbell, each patrolling in the uniform of the day--a skirt--learned to rely on each other and use their intelligence and interpersonal communication skills to handle situations. Through their determination and persistence they weathered the unpleasantness of some of their male colleagues and superiors. They sought and found those male officers who would be supportive and who would be reliable in situations where backup was needed. Here Snow reveals some realities that male officers had long kept to themselves: that police officers, regardless of gender, sometimes need backup, and that both men and women have to find their way of sorting through the stress and the inhumanity that police encounter routinely: "[N]o police officer, no matter how fit, strong, or in shape, can handle every situation without help" (p. …

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