Women in Blue: Why We Need More Women Leaders in Law Enforcement

Jeri Williams will become the first female Chief of Police in Phoenix, AZ. Come October, the capital of my home state of Arizona will appoint Jeri Williams as the first female Chief of Police in the city’s history. She will also be the second African American to hold the position in Phoenix.Williams’ rise in leadership bears a particularly weighty significance at this moment in history when cases of police brutality and attacks on police officers have deeply shaken America’s relationship with law enforcement.KTAR News reports that Williams will join two other Phoenix area women leaders in law enforcement: fire chief, Kara Kalkbrenner and Glendale Chief of Police, Deborah Black. This kind of centralized female leadership in law enforcement is the exception, not the rule.However, Williams said she does not believe she was chosen for the role out of tokenism. In an interview with Cronkite News about her new position, Williams said, “I don’t believe that I got picked because I’m female. I know I got picked because I am the best person for the job.”According to a 2015 U.S. Department of Justice bulletin, women leaders make up only three percent of police chiefs in the United States.[bctt tweet=“Women leaders make up only three percent of police chiefs in the United States.”]Given the national spotlight on  recent shootings of police and incidents of shootings by police, journalist Soraya Chemaly wrote in Women’s E-News recently that “ignoring the role gender plays in police brutality is impairing efforts to properly frame problems and find solutions.”Ohio police officer Nakia Jones responded to the recent fatal shooting of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge: “If you’re afraid to talk to an African American female or a Mexican male or female because they’re not white like you, take the uniform off. You have no business being a police officer.”The shootings of police officers in Baton Rouge, Dallas and more have been condemned by President Barack Obama and so many others. The shootings by police officers of unarmed black men throughout the country, including the most recent in North Miami,  have sparked protests and calls to action.Is having more women in law enforcement one possible solution for increasing community engagement with law enforcement and decreasing  the number of fatal shootings?Cooper Rummell reported in KTAR News in February that when Phoenix officials first started considering who would assume the role of police chief, they asked city leaders to provide a list of qualities they hoped to see in the new chief. Assistant City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. said the answers showed “they want a chief that will be engaged with the community.”Peter Home, Ph.D., of Police Chief Magazine writes, “The growing emphasis on community policing demands police officers with problem-solving and communication skills that enable them to interact effectively with all segments of the public. Several researchers have noted that women tend to be effective communicators, and they also are good at solving problems. Hiring policewomen (or more policewomen), retaining them, and promoting them will help police departments succeed in community policing.”Decades of research has consistently proven the value of diversity and inclusion in law enforcement. In 2003, The National Center for Women & Policing  released the comprehensive report, “Hiring & Retaining More Women: The Advantages to Law Enforcement Agencies.” Taken directly from the report (the most recently available), here are the six key findings:

  1. Female officers are proven to be as competent as their male counterparts.
  2. Female officers are less likely to use excessive force.
  3. Female officers implement “community-oriented policing.”
  4. More female officers will improve law enforcement’s response to violence against women.
  5. Increasing the presence of female officers reduces problems of sex discrimination and harassment within a law enforcement agency.
  6. The presence of women can bring about beneficial changes in policy for all officers.

The researchers cited more than 100 studies since “the dawn of the contemporary female officer” in 1972, according to Dean Scoville of Police Magazine. Some argue that these findings would be enough to change the culture and hiring practices of police departments as they look to better the nature of the relationship between law enforcement agencies and the communities they serve.However, while this research has been available for more than four decades, the advantages of women leaders in law enforcement remain largely untapped in the United States.[bctt tweet=“The advantages of women leaders in law enforcement remain largely untapped in the United States.”]Women still only made up 11.6 percent 0f police officers nationwide in 2013, according to FBI Uniform Crime Reporting data. This number has not seen changed significantly in 10 years.What happens to public service when women are equally represented?In Vermont, Lianne M. Tuomey and Rachel Jolly outlined strategies to include more women in law enforcement in Police Chief Magazine. Widespread implementation of such strategies has yet to take hold.In Canadian public service, women now hold “55 per cent of the jobs and 46 per cent of all executive positions below deputy ministers,” according to Kathryn May in the Ottawa Citizen. The article presents the findings of a recent study out of Carleton University conduced by Marika Morris.Morris found that “women have ‘transformed’ the public service by their numbers and an open, collaborative leadership style that has long been associated with women. Collaborative leaders are good listeners and consensus builders. Studies show such leaders in the private sector have had measurable results such as improved bottom line,” she said. “Women’s influence in the public service is ‘night and day’ compared with the 1990s when women barely had 14 per cent of executive jobs.“The Canadian public service sector has seen considerable change in management style “except in departments where women don’t hold half the jobs such as the RCMP [Royal Canadian Mounted Police] and military, where collegial leadership is ‘absent altogether.’“Can more women leaders in law enforcement make a difference in the climate of community distrust of police? Many would say “yes.”