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


Jennifer Brown


Gender issues within policing have only recently become the subject of detailed academic scrutiny and there are still relatively few cross cultural studies which undertake analysis of women police officers. Research that is available mostly compares United Kingdom and United States experience (Heidensohn 1992, McKenzie 1993). The present paper seeks to make a contribution by reviewing the position of police women in some of the countries of Europe . Data are reported that derive from a comparative analysis of delegates attending the European Network of Policewomen's (ENP) Conference held in Hungary in December 1995 and the joint ENP/ International Association of Women Police (IAWP) Conference held in Birmingham 1996. Data were available from police women serving in the countries of Eastern Europe, Continental Europe and the British Isles as well as from the United States. It must be noted however, that the sample is drawn from activist women officers who are more likely to have an appreciation of gender issues than there non conference attending counterparts. Results are presented as illustrative of trends rather than definitive findings.

In comparing police women's experiences four themes developed by Heidensohn (1992:199) will be used in the present paper: unsuitable job for a woman; equal opportunities; the gentle touch; and desperate remedy.


Countries vary in the dates of admitting women into the police, but the opposition to their admission was almost universal. Women's policing role was to be an extension of the domestic sphere and organisationally, they were to be kept within separate lines of management. Entry of women was often preceded by lobbying activity but successes were probably due to concessions made on pragmatic grounds in response to some contemporary crisis. In Britain, one of the earliest of European countries to recruit women police, the motivation was more likely due to the chronic shortages of civilians in the workforce following national conscription in the 1914-18 War than the missionary efforts of the moral reform crusaders or suffrage campaigners (Woodson 1993:217). Hazenberg and Ormiston (1995:62) report that the first policewoman employed in the Dutch police in 1911 followed pressure from women's groups because of changes in the law concerning sexual offences and the increasing number of prostitutes. Paleolog (nd:16) documents that it was the Polish Committee for the Suppression of Traffic in Women and Children's representations to the Government that was instrumental in the formation of the Polish Women's Police Brigade in 1925.

The expansion of women's roles within policing often occurred through the intervention of key advocates. For example it was not until 1935, some twenty years after the introduction of women into the French police that the Prefet of the Paris, Roger Langeron, deployed women officers operationally (Dene 1992). In 1944, in Britain, a conference supported by the Archbishop of Canterbury was instrumental in stimulating the Home Office to issue a circular encouraging the appointment of more women police officers and greater use of their skills operationally (Radford, 1989).

Sarkozi (1994) notes that women in the Hungarian police are still unlikely to be deployed in operational roles and are largely employed in support and administration functions. Bowron (personal communication) indicates that the striking factor about the nascent Slovackian police is the time warp evident in the position of women officers whose decorative presence were reminiscent of 1960s Adolly birds. Leonard et al (1993) observed that more women officers were engaged in patrol than evident from earlier visits. In that earlier visit Leonard noted the absence of women involved in front line roles. They quote the male commander of one local district in response to a question about women police: "policemen would simply gaze at them all the time and not do their work" (Leonard et al 1991:146)

Training may be thought to be an arena within which the emphasis on physical strength can be challenged and women's capability acknowledged. Fielding (1988) followed probationer constables through their first two years of training in one English force. The attitude of young male recruits was a mixture of chivalry and pragmatism towards a woman partner in potentially violent situations which did not seem to change with experience of patrol. Fielding notes after one year, policemen's early qualms about policewomen's lack of physical strength based in policing's tough image was not assuaged.

In an analysis conducted in Germany some eight years after women were allowed to join the uniformed police, it was reported by Weigel (1992) that men had gained a positive impression of women police as a result of working with female colleagues yet they still held onto their prejudices about women working in violent situations. The men believed that the numbers of women working on shifts should be limited and that women should not complain about pornographic calenders in police stations. Woman should adapt to men's "standards" of behaviour. In a later study, Wurz (1993) described how the position of German women police had developed. Initially women were looked upon as rather "exotic" which led them to be excluded from certain police duties. This attitude also perpetuated the scepticism of many male officers who thought of women as "fair weather constables". The women officers faced considerable opposition to overcome the belief that woman are not capable of carrying out the full range of police work.

Data from the survey of police women conference delegates show that in terms of acceptance by their male officer colleagues the Eastern European officers indicate greater acceptance with decreasing levels being reported by their sister officers in Continental Europe, the British Isles and United States respectively.

Table 1: Acceptance of policewomen by policemen

Levels of           Eastern Europe      Western Europe         Britain           USA

acceptence                 %                   %                  %               &


accepted by all           28                  16                 17               6


accepted by               57                  72                 59              61

most policemen

accepted by                7                   7                 16              20

some policemen

accepted by few            7                   4                  3               9


accepted by no             0                   1                  1               3




A significant catalyst for the advancement of women in policing has been equal opportunities legislation. In Britain, the Sex Discrimination Act of 1975 and Race Relations Act of 1976 mean that selection for recruitment and promotion must be made on merit irrespective of gender or race. Jones (1987) reports that the Police Federation and Association of Chief Police Officers mounted considerable opposition to the police being included within the provision of UK legislation. Jones (1987) and Wilkie and Currie (1989) reviewed the progress made by women officer subsequently in England and Wales and in Scotland respectively. It seems little was done to prepare for or evaluate the impact of integration which occurred virtually overnight. Southgate (1981) showed that two years after the passing of Britain's Sex Discrimination Act , only a third of then serving women officers wanted a fully integrated role. Jones (1987) found some twelve years after the legislation the majority of policewomen (58%) in the Welsh force that she studied wanted a fully integrated role although only a third of policemen thought this appropriate. Wilkie and Currie (1987) presented data from a study of Scottish police in which now 77 percent of women wanted to be integrated whilst 39 percent of men thought there should be gender integration. In part, women's initial relunctance to take on an integrated role had to do with a belief that they would lose the status and expertise attached to their work within a Women's Department (Cameron, 1992: Burman and Lloyd 1993).

In the European Union, countries are subject to directives on equal pay and equal treatment. Gregory (1987) considers that appeals to European law have not been successful in improving women's position in the workforce in the various countries of the Union. This may have been so in the early years, for example the Minister of Defence in Belgium used European law to exclude women from the Gendarmerie (Rijkswacht) because it was believed that the work "posed too much physical and moral risks for women" (Hazenberg and Ormiston 1995: 19). However, the Republic of Ireland police, Garda Siochana, was obliged to lift its exemption from the Employment Equality Act in 1985 because of European Directive SI331.

Recourse to litigation is limited within countries of the European Union although there has been some successful utilisation of the European Court as in the case of Johnston versus the Royal Ulster Constabulary ( RUC) . Mrs Johnston, a part time reservist in the RUC, successfully claimed that she had been discriminated against when her contract was not renewed because she was unable to use a firearm. It was force policy not to arm women. The chief constable's defence was that if women were armed it would increase the risk of their becoming targets for assassination, that armed women would be less effective in areas for which women are better suited such as welfare work, dealing with families and children, and that if women were to carry firearms it would be regarded by the public as a much greater departure from the ideal of an unarmed police (Brown and Sargent, 1995).

Appeal to litigation in Britain is rare but perhaps because of this when cases occur they attract considerable attention. Wendy de Launay brought an early successful case when a supervisor returned her to foot patrol duties believing that her being partnered with a male colleague in a patrol car adversely affected morale. An incomplete case involving Assistant Chief Constable Alison Halford's claim that she had been passed over for promotion in favour of less able male candidates resulted in a review of the appointment of chief officers. In the United States, progress of women officers has been stimulated by mandatory hiring quotas and considerable individual litigation testing equal opportunities legislation (Heidensohn, 1992).

Drawing upon the comparative data set, then it can be suggested that women from all jurisdictions believe that they have been discriminated against in terms of deployment, promotion prospects, training and opportunities for overtime payments. Again, there is an underlying trend for greater levels of reported discrimination as the police jurisdictions move farther West.

Table two: Reported discrimination by policewomen

areas of            Eastern Europe     Western Europe       Britain           USA

discrimination             %                 %                 %               %


Promotion                 14                26                18              45

Deployment                28                29                55              60

Training                  14                24                25              47

Overtime                 114                37                19              19



There is some research evidence to suggest the emergence of a female cop culture. Martin's (1979) reported a distinctiveness in policewomen and their policing. Young (1991:240) finds examples of the "new policewoman" amongst British women officers whom he estimates make up about 10 per cent of the female establishment. These women officers adopt a feminine competence which makes little concession to entrenched stereotypes. Interestingly Hunt's (1990) notion of women's cop culture is its reforming character, a theme which has resonance with the earlier history of women police. This can be illustrated by the following quotations.

"It was expected that the policewoman, thanks to her personal qualities... would bring into police work new methods, at once more social and more humane, and would become particularly indispensable" Paleolog (nd 16)

"The Police Judiciare has little experience with women in the combatting of organised crime though we may state that these few women have an enormous motivation... a different perspective on this sort of work, which can have an enriching and a refreshing effect"
[original emphasis] Belmans (1994)

The first observation was made of Polish police women in 1925, the second of Belgium police women nearly sixty years later. Yet both comments express the same sentiment about differences of style and method that women may bring to policing, and the inference that there were therefore difficulties within these respective police forces that women's skills could redress..

Considerable research effort has examined the occupational culture of the police and the status of women officers within it, notably in the United States (Martin 1979, 1980, 1989,1990; Hunt 1990) and in Britain (Jones 1986,1987; Brewer, 1991; Young 1991; Heidensohn 1992; Fielding 1994; Walklate 1993, 1995). This body of work portraits a picture of an informal "canteen" cop culture in which scatological humour, boasting about sexual exploits and feats of physical prowess dominate. Societal expectations about the role of women as caring, nurturing and being "soft" become confused with occupational stereotyping of police as forceful, pragmatic and hard. In order to preserve the distinction, police women are pushed towards certain "acceptable" roles within policing and "controlled" through harassing behaviour by men. Within European countries, varying levels of harassment have been reported. Academic research reports evidence for sexual harassment in the RUC (Brewer, 1991); at least one Scottish force (Brown 1994); in the Belgian Police (Corryn 1994) ; Danish police (Ibsen Froslee, cited in Hazenberg and Ormiston 1995); Dutch police ( Eikenaar 1993); and also in England and Wales (Anderson, Brown and Campbell 1993).

International comparison from the conference delegate data set reveals the presence of sexual harassment in all jurisdictions which apparently gets progressively worse the further into the West that the women serve.

Table 3: Police women's reported exposure to sexual harassment from policemen

Exposure level    Eastern Europe     Western Europe      Britain       USA

                         %                 %                %           %


Never                   69                33               21          12

Rarely                  15                35               41          29

Sometimes               15                28               33          44

Odten                    0                 3                5          15


Some observers of police occupational culture (Fielding 1994) argue that there is little evidence of an emergent female cop culture. Although empirical findings ( cf Lunneborg 1989) suggest that women officers place higher priority on domestic violence and their approach is different to that of male officers, Price (1989) concludes that policing appears to change the women rather than vice versa. From Price's analysis, women appear to be less aggressive and manage violent confrontations better than men, are more pleasant, respectful to and communicate better with citizens than men, but that none of this appears to influence men's style of policing.


It has been pointed out earlier that various crises affecting the police have been associated with increases in the recruitment of women officers in greater numbers.. Recruiting women was seen as one solution in a period of low morale and poor pay.

With the new emphasis on community policing and quality of service evident in British policing, it is noteworthy that the moves to change the police culture have embraced what might be considered feminising influences. Brown and Waters (in press) draws attention to the "Getting Things Right" a document issued by the Association of Chief Police Officers of England and Wales in which reference is made to the need to loosen the grip of the past military based hierarchical culture of the police but rather to empower staff through consultation, support and trust staff . Brown (1995) reports the speech given by the Commander of the Belgian Gendarmerie, which had recently admitted women, noting that the integration of women was held to be especially important as this created a reflection of society more appropriate to the police service to a Gendarmerie transformed from its military past.

Influx of refugees and increases in illegal immigration has been associated with expansion of numbers of women police officers in other, notably Asian countries (Aleem 1989; Calderwood 1974) and these conditions presently prevail in former Soviet Bloc countries. Gregory (1995) points out that recruitment for police forces in Eastern Europe is made especially difficult because officers are required to be untainted by association with the previous communist regimes and also problems of poor pay and lack of status, dimensions again associated with the encouragement of women to join the police. Gregory reports that in Hungary, for example, there are at least 1,200 unfilled posts out of 26,000 with the Government aiming to increase the numbers of police personnel by 20 per cent in 1996. It will be interesting to see if women become the target of this recruitment drive.

Leonard et al (1993) report in the newly emerging Czech police, staff have been purged because of their past associations with the previous regime or have left for more lucrative jobs. Difficulties in recruitment as well as increased problems associated with prostitution again present circumstances which previously have heralded greater numbers of women officers. Attempts at reform include the issue of new uniforms aimed at conveying a civil rather than military image and which present a less aggressive visible presence than some of the private security guards. They also note circumstances that previously have been associated with the appointment of a greater number of women officers: illicit trade in women; exiting of staff either compromised by their involved in the previous regime or those in search of more lucrative jobs. It will be interesting to monitor the role of women police in the emerging reconstructed police forces in Eastern Europe.


Women from which ever jurisdiction found it difficult to gain admittance into policing and, once in, experience continued resistance from policemen. Researchers and commentators from whichever cultural tradition testify to the dominance of masculine values in policing and beliefs about its inherent unsuitability as a job for a woman.

Data from the comparative survey provide some clues about points of difference between police women serving in different countries. Those in Eastern European countries appear to suffer less discrimination and harassment than their counterparts in continental Europe, the British Isles and the United States. There could be a number of explanations for this. The role and working status of women in former communist regimes might have resulted in greater equality which had to be won by political lobbying and legislation in the West. In this case it would be expected that differences are due to incidence rates of discrimination and harassment.

An alternative explanation could be that incidence rates are constant and the difference is attributable to the tolerance thresholds and levels of awareness of police women on the one hand and to the development of anti discriminatory policies on the other hand. Thus in the West, and more particularly in the United States, the women's movement and feminist consciousness raising have given women tools of analysis and heightened awareness of behaviour that is considered discriminatory. Equal opportunities legislation and policy implementation has progressively greater enforcement power across Europe and into America.

The introduction of equal opportunities law can resurrect policemen's resistance to women officers and result in renewed attempts by policemen to exclude their women colleagues from the full range of duties and employment benefits. As women move out of their segregated status of specialist roles and departments the informal relationships between men and women at work may deteriorate as women increasing take on previously exclusive male roles and responsibilities.

As policing in Eastern Europe develops equal opportunities policies then there are likely to be at least two consequences. Women may change their tolerance thresholds in terms of being restricted in job opportunities and men are likely to increase their resistance to the even diffusion of women throughout the organisation. Lessons from the West would seem to indicate that resistance, discrimination, harassment and then reform are inevitable. Awareness of these processes may only serve to foreshorten the time scale during which this cycle takes place.

Table of Contents | Female Officers in the United States

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