Police Like a Girl!

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“If you don’t have 20% or more women in your police department you are missing out on the opportunity of becoming a high quality organization and delivering the best you have to your officers, the city, and its residents.”

Jay Newton-Small wrote a very important book last year, Broad Influence: How Women Are Changing the Way America Works. I have recommended it to my university class on police leadership as well as today’s police leaders.

Newton-Small is a Washington correspondent for Time Magazine and I find her work most encouraging and consistent with the experience I have had hiring and leading women police. The title of her book says it all — Broad Influence!

Here’s a quick recent history lesson of women in our society:

  • In 1971 only 1.4% of our nation’s police were women (today it is around 14%, but varies greatly from agency to agency). Many police agencies are still at that level or have no women police at all.
  • Twenty years ago, women were not allowed to wear pants to work.
  • Five years ago, there was no women’s toilet off the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives.
  • Forty-five years ago, no uniformed women were in ranks of police in Madison, Wisconsin; a city that saw itself as progressive and proclaimed in the September, 1948 edition of Life Magazine as America’s best city!

I was also paying attention to what was happening around me with regard to the various efforts regarding women’s rights during my early career in policing.

  • 1963 The Equal Pay Act is passed by Congress, promising equitable wages for the same work, regardless of the race, color, religion, national origin or sex of the worker.
  • 1964 Title VII of the Civil Rights Act passes including a prohibition against employment discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, or sex.
  • 1965 Weeks v. Southern Bell, 408 F. 2d. 228 (5th Cir. 1969), marks a major triumph in the fight against restrictive labor laws and company regulations on the hours and conditions of women’s work, opening many previously male-only jobs to women.
  • 1968 Executive Order 11246 prohibits sex discrimination by government contractors and requires affirmative action plans for hiring women.
  • 1969 In Bowe v. Colgate-Palmolive Company, 416 F. 2d 711 (7th Cir.1969), the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals rules that women meeting the physical requirements can work in many jobs that had been for men only.
  • 1972 Title IX (Public Law 92-318) of the Education Amendments prohibits sex discrimination in all aspects of education programs that receive federal support.

My awareness of the importance of women’s rights began for me in early 1973, when I found myself appointed to lead that police department of 300 officers in Madison, Wisconsin. While the department had no women in uniform patrol, six women were posted to the youth bureau as “police women”  but with the following requirements and restrictions:

  • They were required to have a four-year college degree while the men were not.
  • They had to resign their position as soon as it was known they were pregnant. (After the births of their children they could be rehired.)
  • They had full arrest powers but could not carry a firearm.
  • They were not permitted to apply for promotion.

Talk about a perfect storm for litigation! Prior to coming to Madison, I had little to no experience hiring or leading women. The three police departments in which I had worked before coming to Madison were all-male. And my four years with the Marines before this didn’t help much either.

As for the literature regarding women police there was only one publication at the time, the Catherine Milton’s Policewomen on Patrol (Police Foundation, 1974).

After I attended a conference on women by the World Future Society in Toronto, I became an advocate. It strengthened my resolve to bring  women into policing in even greater numbers.

During my interview for the Madison job, I made a commitment that I would bring women into full participation within the department — including adding to the one Black officer currently in the ranks of the department!

In both recruitment areas I was deeply committed to the position that diversity matters and it is one of the important strengths of policing a free society. Without diversity, the full and effective measure of democratic policing will not be experienced by a community.

Newton-Small reiterated what I came to know and to understand with regard to women in policing and why it is absolutely necessary to increase the number of women officers in the ranks of our nation’s police.

  • Women tend to use violence as a last resort.
  • Their presence lowers the temperature of a conflict.
  • They employ a wider variety of conflict-resolution techniques with least harm to all parties involved.
  • They patiently watch a situation evolve and try to talk it through.

I know this by my own personal experience and the following national data supports my experience:

  • Of 117 police officers killed in the line of duty in 2014, only four were women (3.4% – much lower than the 14% in the ranks of our nation’s police).
  • Women save money for cities who employ them. (For example, from 1990-99, the city of Los Angeles paid out $63.4M in excessive force complaints. Only $2.4 million was paid in cases which involved women officers and none for excessive force.)

Women also bring additional skills to a police agency:

  • They tend to be more collaborative and empathetic.
  • They are better listeners, more collegial, and more open to new ideas.
  • They tend to seek “win-win” outcomes.

Upon my retirement, women constituted 25% of the department; a fact of which I am very proud. Chiefs who followed me, both African-Americans, were able to raise the number to 30-35% ranking Madison as having the largest percentage of women in the ranks of a medium-sized police department.

We also found another benefit — the more women you have in your department the easier it is to recruit more women.

I had thought there was some kind of “point of influence” around 25% before women could exert a true and lasting effect on an organization. I still feel strongly about this.

If you don’t have 20% or more women in your police department you are missing out on the opportunity of becoming a high quality organization and delivering the best you have to your officers, the city, and its residents.

This “twenty-some percent” number is, according to Newton-Small, the same “magic number” that the U.S. Navy holds.

Accordingly, when at least 20% of the crew assigned to a warship are women, gender issues disappear and the sailors work effectively as a team. Prior to this, they found that putting a handful of women on a ship created “misery” for everyone involved. Sound familiar?

Women who work in police agencies without sufficient numbers may be finding themselves in the same miserable situation the Navy experienced. The solution is to beef up the numbers, not limit them!

And the simplest way to address the number one issue facing police today — the use of deadly force — might actually be to hire more women and get their numbers in the ranks up to at least 20%.

In fact, Katherine Spillar, who oversees the National Center for Women & Policing made this very argument in her 2015 article which appeared in the Washington Post.

Diversity counts. It is a necessary path for a modern police today to take. When a police department reflects the diversity of the community they serve, trust, support, and overall effectiveness is guaranteed to occur.

So, it makes sense to me that we should all start to “police like a girl!”

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Capt. Sabine Lobitz, Wisconsin State Capitol Police.
p.s. I must disclose that a major influence in my life was the person to whom I was married. She was a police officer, wife, mother of three, and co-conspirator/author in matters of policing. We served together on two different police departments in the same city. She retired after 20 years of service and we recently celebrated our 35th anniversary together. She always knew how to police like a girl.