Recruiting Women Police Officers

By Prussel, Deborah; Lonsway, Kimberly A. | Law & Order, July 2001 | Go to article overview

Recruiting Women Police Officers

Prussel, Deborah, Lonsway, Kimberly A., Law & Order

"Trooper. Wife. Mother." read a recent recruiting advertisement for the Michigan State Police. Another for the New York State Police focuses on "Protecting My

Family, Protecting Yours." These are not the traditional messages of police recruitment materials, yet this type of advertising helps agencies increase the representation of women in their applicant pools.

Lt. Col. Deborah Campbell, director of human resources for the New York State Police, is an integral part of their innovative new recruitment efforts. "We have become acutely aware of the positive impact that female officers have on the profession of policing," said Campbell. "Now, it's up to us as police administrators to capitalize on the value of that diversity by attracting more women to the field of policing."

In an era of tight labor markets and increasing pressures to diversify the workforce, law enforcement agencies nationwide are searching for ways to improve their recruitment efforts and draw a diverse range of qualified personnel. Chief Penny Harrington, Director of the National Center for Women & Policing (NCWP) said, "The main question from law enforcement executives around the country is always, `How can I recruit and retain women in my agency?'"

A recent publication by the Bureau of Justice Assistance, Recruiting and Retaining Women: A Self-Assessment Guide for Law Enforcement, has some answers. Written by the NCWP, this guide highlights numerous ways for agencies to successfully recruit and retain female personnel. More importantly, it provides a step-by-step guide for agencies seeking to conduct a self-assessment of their own recruitment policies and procedures.

Advantages and Obstacles

Research shows not only are female officers equally as competent as their male counterparts but they also bring a number of unique advantages to law enforcement agencies. First, they often use a communication style that is consistent with the principles of community policing and can serve to de-escalate potentially violent situations. Second, they are substantially less likely to use excessive force, thus decreasing their departments' exposure to liability. Third, women often respond more sympathetically to victims of crime, especially in domestic violence situations, which represent the single largest category of calls for police service. Finally, women often provide an impetus for changes that benefit male and female officers alike, such as improvements in "family-- friendly" policies governing child care, sick leave and the assignment of light duty.

Despite these many advantages, law enforcement agencies still face a number of obstacles to recruiting women. Currently, only a small number of women serve as officers. Recent research documents that only 13% of police personnel are female, presenting a real challenge to recruiting other women. Another obstacle is the stereotype of policing, which focuses on the use of force and emphasizes a military-like environment. Both deter many women who might otherwise consider a career in policing. Additional barriers include the physical ability testing that is often used as a prerequisite for employment, live-in academy training requiring recruits to be away from their families for an extended period of time, and the widespread problem of discrimination and harassment. Fortunately, these obstacles can be overcome with innovation and perseverance. "Departments can do it; they just need to think outside the box," stated Harrington.

Getting Started

It takes work and planning to effectively recruit a diverse applicant pool. The first step in that process is developing a strategic marketing plan, a point emphasized by Donna Milgram, executive director of the Women In Policing Institute. Milgram is concerned that recruitment campaigns are too often launched without an evaluation of their cost effectiveness, creating a problem for agencies with limited resources. …

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