POLICING IN CENTRAL AND EASTERN EUROPE: Comparing Firsthand Knowledge with Experience from the West,
© 1996 College of Police and Security Studies, Slovenia


FEMALE POLICE OFFICERS IN THE UNITED STATES

Barbara Raffel Price

INTRODUCTION

In the United States police departments must hire people without regard to race or gender. This has been the law for the past twenty years.

However, in policing, gender integration and the opportunity for women to participate in forming police policy has been strongly resisted. Schulz has observed that women have transformed their original social worker role in policing only because of their own determination and struggle (1995). She argues that women changed their police role throughout history by drawing on outside social forces, and in recent times, by relying on the law to enable them to work as police officers. However, acceptance by their male peers has yet to occur. Women receive, at best, a cool reception from male officers and, at worst, a hostile reception (Worden 1993:229).

In spite of this, there has been a steady growth in the number of women entering police work. In 1970, only two percent of all police were women but, by 1991, nine percent of police were women (personal communication, Bureau of Justice Statistics, 1993). At the executive, policy making level of policing, we find very limited representation of women. Less than two percent of police (1.4%) in the very top echelons of the uniformed ranks are women. In the lower supervisory ranks 2.5% of the lieutenants and 3.7% of the sergeants are women (Martin 1988). Today, in the New York Police Department, 15% of all uniformed officers in the department are women, but only 9% are sergeants, 6% are lieutenants, 3% are captains and 4% are above the rank of captain (personal communication with the Office of Management and Budget, NYPD, data are for 7/31/96). Research has shown that women in policing are not easily accepted by their male peers, their supervisors, or their own police department. Women are viewed with skepticism or worse by their male counterparts in spite of the fact that women have been doing police work for over one hundred years. The public is, however, considerably more positive and frequently welcoming of their presence. In recent years acceptance by the public has grown as women police have been seen more frequently on the street on patrol and in uniform.

The first police matrons appeared in the nineteenth century and, in 1905, the first documented appointment of a woman with police powers took place (Peyser 1985). Shortly thereafter in 1910 the first woman with full police power was hired by the Los Angeles Police Department (Melchionne 1976).

The early history of women police consisted largely of social service in which women had to meet higher standards for police employment, but received lower wages, were restricted to a special unit or bureau, and were assigned primarily to clerical, juvenile, guard duty and vice work (Schulz 1989). Women police were not permitted to be promoted except within their own special women's unit nor were they permitted to take the same promotion test as men. Finally, and most damaging for opportunities to demonstrate their general value to the organization, they were not permitted to perform basic patrol duties (Price and Gavin 1982, Peyser 1985). Women could only be promoted within their own bureaus because, they were told by their police superiors, they had not had the full "police experience" of being on general street patrol. It was, of course, the same male police administration that had refused over the years to assign women to general patrol and thus had blocked police women=s access to the required experience (Price and Gavin 1982). When women finally were given the opportunity, as a result of Federal law mandating equal opportunity regardless of gender or race, to perform general police work and serve on patrol, they demonstrated their fitness for police work. Or did they?

Almost all of the past research on women police has focused on the capabilities of women to perform police work; virtually all conclude that women, indeed, do have such ability. This capacity includes physical as well as mental and emotional fitness. Studies demonstrating women's capabilities have covered the areas of patrol work (Bloch and Anderson 1974, Sherman 1975, Townsey 1982) citizen satisfaction (Sherman 1975), police chief evaluations (Seligson 1985), response to hazardous situations (Elias 1984), academy academic performance (Elias 1984), physical capability (Townsey 1982), physical training receptivity (Moldon 1985), and the handling of violent confrontations (Moldon 1985, Grennan 1987).

The research literature also reveals that in entering police work women have encountered enormous difficulties, primarily as a result of the negative attitudes of the men. Male officers anticipate women failing (Brookshire 1980); they doubt women can equal men in most job skills (Bloch and Anderson 1974); they do not see women officers as doing "real" police work (Melchionne 1976); and they perpetuate myths about women's lack of emotional fitness (Bell 1982). Race, age and education seem to influence attitudes toward women: black officers were found to be somewhat more favorable toward women than white officers (Bell 1982, Bloch and Anderson 1974); and in St. Louis younger, better educated officers exhibited less negativism (Sherman 1975). In contrast, a study in Atlanta concluded flatly that male officers did not accept women as police officers (Remmington 1981). Horne (1980) has pointed out that the biggest challenge facing women officers is the resistance displayed by male officers in their attitudes toward women in policing. Hunt (1990) concluded that women police were harassed and resisted by the male officers because they feared that women would violate departmental (actually, their own) secrets about police corruption and violence. Thus, fear of exposure by women officers was cited by Hunt as the underlying cause of the significant resistance to women.

It is important to point out that the situation found in the U.S. and reported in the literature is similar to that found in European, Eastern European, Asian and Latin American countries. At an international conference on women and policing held in Amsterdam and sponsored by the European Network of Policewomen a workshop was convened on the role of femininity on police work. Women police from over twenty countries around the world shared information on the discriminatory treatment that they suffered at the hands of their male colleagues. A recent article on Polish women police notes that "Sometimes it happens that they (women police) are scarcely tolerated" (Trzcinska 1996).

In addition to police men's negative attitudes, women face a number of other major socially structured problems that are inherent in the larger society and are played out as well in policing. These include family responsibilities (Brookshire 1980, Martin 1980), role strain and role conflict (Martin 1980, Jacobs 1983) doubts about competence and self-worth (Glaser and Saxe 1982) sexual harassment (Wong 1984) and a concomitant fear of complaining about abuse (The Council of the City of New York, Committee on Women 1986) and, lastly, equipment and facilities inadequacies--including material conditions of such items as locker rooms (Horne 1980, Washington 1974), uniforms (Brookshire 1980), and patrol car seats (Horne 1980). Black women face additional obstacles, such as conflicts engendered by being both a black woman and a police officer, a type of stress which is currently unstudied. Thus there are many hurdles--both organizational and role-related--confronting women who choose police work as their career.

My own research examined the integration of women into policing in the NYPD (Price, Sokoloff, and Kuleshnyk:1992). We also considered the race of the women since black women make up approximately thirty percent of all women police officers in the United States today. In contrast, black men comprise only fifteen percent of all police men (The Municipal Year Book 1987).

THE RESEARCH

Our study investigated the women's situation in the an urban department. The subjects average age was 30 years, most had come into police work for financial security and job security, most had a college degree and had been in the department from 5-10 years. The issue of discrimination was covered in depth.

In any study of women and policing, the question of discrimination is central. My study revealed that the presence of discrimination in the workplace is identified by virtually all black women officers (92%, N=11) and half (57%, N=4) of the white women. Moreover, most agreed that the discrimination within the department exists on two levels -- gender and race.

Eighty-three percent (N=10) of the black women see themselves as black women and therefore in some ways unique, (as opposed to focusing only on being black or only female). Of those women, half (N=5) of them believe they are discriminated against on the basis of race. Several examples of this discrimination were reported:

On the part of white women, some (29%, N=2) acknowledge that the black women have a more difficult time than women who are white. This is true despite the fact that some white women simultaneously believe black women are at an advantage in the department as "double minorities" at a time when the department is anxious to show that it is not a racist organization.

Only one white woman (14%) believed white women have it better in the department. Fifty-eight percent (N=7) of black women think white women receive preferential treatment, e.g., "they can get someone to make a call -- black women don't have anyone." On the other hand, 71% (N=5) of the white women think black women have it better, whereas only 25% (N=3) of the black women feel black women have it better.

The issue of individual vs. institutional discrimination was explored but the results are inconclusive although a number of interviewees believe there are deliberate departmental policies which work to the detriment of women. At least 42% (N=5) of the black women but, at best, only one white woman (0-14%) believed there is an attempt by the department to keep women and/or minorities separate from each other. Speculation as to why this is the case varies. It was noted that there is a "divide and conquer" strategy in the department which starts during training where "they" (either individuals or the department) try to keep the females separate from each other. This effort operates also by race according to some reports. One explanation of the use of "divide and conquer" is male officer insecurity or fear of the competition which women seem to present.

Clearly, black police women experience their work worlds differently that white women. They report greater degrees of discrimination than white women in the police department, and black women see themselves as discriminated against because of their race, gender, or combined race/gender. However, despite the discrimination that black women report in assignments and promotion as workers in the department, they do not believe that discrimination against them is any worse than in the larger society. On the contrary, the black women police officers in our study seem to feel that policing provided alternatives not available to them in the larger world where a narrower range of occupational options exist for them. The detailed job hierarchy, the less biased civil service entrance and promotional tests, the higher paid "male" jobs (compared with low-paid, low-status jobs traditionally available to women in general and black women in particular) result in greater opportunities for black women in policing than in the private sector.

The literature points out that apparently similar experiences occur for black police men who report great conflict in their roles as blacks and as police officers (Alex 1969, Leinen 1984). An example helps to illustrate the point. On the job, a black partner may be seen as "a brother in blue," but if blacks speak forcefully against what they perceive to be racist slurs, behaviors, and policies in the department, they are often accused of not being "blue enough" (Terry 1988). However, despite these problems, when black police men are interviewed, many say (as did our women subjects) their jobs are satisfying and believe there are opportunities for advancement they would not be able to get in other kinds of jobs (Williams 1988).

Evidence of gender discrimination was also found in the absence of women in certain special units. Respondents pointed out that they are excluded from certain units, details and even seminars. Based on the comments of the women, the study labeled these units as "forbidden units" since they are either off-limit assignments for women or assignments where women experience extra harassment, presumably to encourage them to transfer out. At least 29% (N=2) of the white women and 42% (N=5) of the black women mentioned this phenomenon. Women reported that they are not welcome in such units as mounted, harbor and highway (a specialized traffic unit) and that they are told there are no openings when, in fact, by the women's perception there are vacancies. If, as happens on occasion, a woman gets into one of the male-only units, respondents report, she meets with considerable hardship. The department's own figures on male/female participation in several of these units show proportionately less females than are represented overall in the department. The mounted unit has 4.4% women, highway, 0.4% and harbor, 3.2% while the department overall is over 11% female. Of the ten women in these three units, one is black while the department has 818 black women out of a total of 8,106 women. These figures, taken alone, would tend to confirm the claim that there currently are "forbidden units" for women.

Recent Interviews

Women in urban policing today express a high level of cynicism about policing as a career and considerable anger at the department and their job. They cite lack of opportunity for advancement, conflict between working hours and their personal life, and negative attitudes of men toward them as the main reasons for their disillusionment with police work. They believe that the department does not value women police and that they are, in general, an unappreciated group. The women believe that they are discriminated in work assignments, promotions, recommendations for promotion and the availability of appropriate facilities. The women expressed their desire to have women hired, evaluated and promoted on their own merit and not as tokens to satisfy some statistical requirements of the government or some political needs. On the positive side, the women who were interviewed believe that women police bring special qualities and attributes to police work such compassion, communication skills, maturity.

SUMMARY

Women and racial minorities are entering mainstream policing, ostensibly, on both an equitable basis with white men and in markedly larger numbers than ever before. Numbers, however, do not reveal the changing nature of the work itself, the job environment, treatment by others on the job, internal support for career development, promotion and other rewards. One objective of recent research has been to examine these topics. The women's responses during interviews help to support and give meaning to statistical data on women's uneven distribution throughout police ranks1 and women's virtual absence in some specialized units. These recent studies find that women of both races face a considerable amount of discrimination in policing.

Major findings are: (1) women are motivated to become police officers because of financial security (this is twice as true for black women) and as a result of family or friends' encouragement (this is more true for white than black women); (2) pre-employment exposure to police work played an important role in influencing black women to enter police work; (3) problems in the previous assignment were more frequently noted as a precursor to requesting assignment to the police academy than was the desire for a steady day shift; (4) most women derive job satisfaction from their academy assignment; (5) most women in the study are preparing for promotion examinations; (6) almost all black women police in our study and over half of white women report that discrimination exists in the police department; (7) male domination in policing creates professional obstacles to career advancement and satisfaction.

Social scientists continually argue as to whether structural and technical changes or attitudinal changes must occur first in order to bring about social change. A case can be made that both must occur -- and in relation to one another, before gender equality will be achieved. This is as true for policing as for other aspects of our social and occupational lives. Yet, it is clear that the structural changes in the law in the United States have helped to create an increase in the numbers of women in this traditionally male dominated field of policing.

In policing, as departments expanded in the early 1970's, a related increase of black and white women police occurred driven by affirmative action practices. However, despite the advent of affirmative action laws affecting the police, urban fiscal problems led to the wide- scale dismissal of women and minorities in the labor force. 2 Some of the structural barriers experienced by women in police work as well as attitudinal barriers contribute to the disproportionately high numbers of women in the lowest levels of police departments (Martin, 1988). While some believe that the passage of time is all that is needed, others argue that barriers to achieving promotions, job security, and comparable assignments and salaries will persist. Gender bias is clearly attitudinal as well as behavioral while the organization and its practices are inherently a matter of structure.

NOTES

  1. 93.3% of the women are police officers or detectives; 5.7% are sergeants; 1% are lieutenants, captains or higher. Comparisons with other major cities reveal similar distributions (Martin 1988).
  2. Detroit and New York City provide two vivid examples. In Detroit, Dreifus (1982) reports that in 1980 39% of furloughed police officers were female. In New York, Viteritti (1987) reports that personnel cutbacks led to a 9.8% loss of white police officers, but much higher losses of blacks (18%) and Hispanics (22%). However, it led to a whopping 88% loss for women who had been appointed in the previous two years (Peyser 1985).


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