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Women in law enforcement

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Women in law enforcement

Women in law enforcement agencies have typically been outnumbered by men. The first female police officer in Germany was recruited in 1903, the first in the USA appeared in 1910 and the first in England just a few years later. Since that time many law enforcement agencies have sought to reduce discrimination and increase the numbers of women working in this sector.

Overview - Germany

Henriette Arendt was a German Police Officer in 1903.[1]

Overview - United Kingdom

The transformation to "Voluntary Women Patrols" in 1917
Police in Birmingham with a "matron" in about 1919

During the First World War a volunteer service was established by Margaret Damer Dawson and Nina Boyle. They had joined forces after seeing the trouble faced by refugees during the war. These volunteer women were allowed to officially patrol the streets of London and policemen were asked to assist them. These "Women Police Volunteers" were trained and they were intended to assist women during the turmoil of the war.[2]

As the end of the First World War several groups of women's police Voluntary Patrols were in some major cities in Great Britain. These 'well-bred' women patrolling the streets to help women and children and especially those who became involved in crime.[3] The Voluntary Women's Force at Bath, Somerset was created in 1912. Apart from London's Metropolitan Police commissioning of a report by a "female on females in custody" in 1907, there was not any consideration given to women working within the Police Force. The Prison Service had involved women many years previously.

In 1910 five women got together as a group and started to draw the attention of the Police Authorities to the fact that there were no women Constables, even though many women were temporary prisoners in police custody. Matrons had been employed as civilian staff to look after women and children. They were usually the wives of serving police officers. Two women in particular sought to point out the lack of a woman Constable presence was wrong. They each had a relative in political high office. One of these women was Edith Tancred (1873–1957).[4] She became a campaigner for the requirement of women police. The other was Dorothy Peto. Peto later decided to take the 'administrative path' within the Constabulary for promotion. Both Tancred and Peto were well placed in society to get their views heard. They were soon joined by three other women campaigners, and around 1911 started unofficial street patrols from an office in Bristol "to maintain public morality and decency". In 1914 Peto had joined the National Union of Women Workers[5] and made patrols herself. Florence Mildred White left her teaching post at the Godolphin School in 1914 to live and work in the newly created Bath office of the group, where Peto had become the Assistant Patrols Organizer. White stayed until May 1918, working under the supervision of Peto, as a Patrol Officer in the city.

Sir Leonard Dunning, Her Majesty's Inspector of Constabulary wrote an article in the police magazine in 1918. About two of the six pages of his annual Report concerned the employment of women into professional police work, including the possibility of them having the powers of arrest.[6][7] Many Chief Constables saw the role of women as Clerks and Chauffeurs' and thought women could possibly be employed as Special Constables.[8] The Chief Constable of Wolverhampton wrote an article in Police Review and Parade Ground Gossip in which he listed a range of duties women could undertake within the Force.[9]

The Home Office, London, set up the Baird Committee in 1920 on the employment conditions and attesting of women in the Service.[10] Two Inspectors of Constabulary gave evidence as did several senior people in the Service including two Sergeants from provincial forces, Sergeant White and Sergeant Gale from Gloucestershire. (Both sergeants were already attested).[5][10]

On 16 November 1921 the Metropolitan Commissioner of Police, Sir Nevil Macready, who was considered to be setting the standard throughout England, issued an order[5] that with the possibility of women being appointed in the Police Service they would be in line with requirements for male officers; "a minimum height would be established, though at 5 feet 4 inches this was considerably lower than that for men." (White was officially documented as being five feet five and one half inches tall.[11]) Macready added that women with dependent young children would be barred from service, women officers were not to be sworn in as constables, and they would not have the right to a pension. However, Salisbury, Liverpool and Glasgow had twenty women Constables already attested by 1919.

Overview - United States

Capt Edyth Totten and women police in 1918 in New York

The first female police officers in the United States included Marie Owens, who joined the Chicago Police department in 1891; Lola Baldwin, who was sworn in by the city of Portland in 1908; Fanny Bixby, also sworn into office in 1908 by the city of Long Beach, California; and b Alice Stebbins Wells who was initiated into the Los Angeles Police Department in 1910.[12] Since then, women have made progress in the world of law enforcement. The percentage of women has gone up from 7.6% in 1987, to 12% in 2007 across the United States.[13] Despite these strides, women are underrepresented in law enforcement within the United States. Women only represent 12% of all law enforcement agencies, of which there are over 14,000.[14] Also, throughout all of these agencies there are only 219 women who are ranked a chief. According to Johnson(2013) data from the FBI in 2011 showed that women only represented 12% out of 700,000 police officers in the U.S however, it is only partially higher from 11.2% in 2001.[14] Very few women are ranked as sergeant or above.[14] So not only are women underreported in law enforcement they are faced with a glass ceiling and are unable to move up in ranks within their departments. It has long been know that agencies used to discriminate against the women by not hiring them simply because of their gender. Only in the last twenty years have departments been made to not hire a candidate based on gender.[15] For around seventy years departments were allowed to discriminate against women wanting to go into law enforcement because they were women and are physically weaker. When women were allowed to get jobs within law enforcement, they were often given administrative or traffic jobs rather than actually going out on the street. Today that has changed; there are more women who are getting jobs within the tactical departments, such as S.W.A.T.

Local law enforcement agencies are not the only agencies to have a lower representation of women on their staff. Federal agencies are also underrepresented when it comes to women. Here are the statistics for women in federal agencies as of 2008:

Women are even less represented in local departments. Here are the statistics for these departments as of 2008:

  • Medium-sized departments 9%
  • Small sized departments 10%
  • Large Local Departments 15%
  • Small local police departments 6%
  • Small local sheriffs departments 4%[16]

Between 2005 and 2011 the female physical ability test pass rates were 80% lower than their male counterparts.[17]

Police Departments do not only have fewer police officers in them, they also hire fewer female police officers compared to male officers. Women are often screened out of the hiring process early on because departments are looking for candidates with high upper body strength and previous military experience.[18] The physical ability test is not fit to match the physical standards of women. Men have higher muscle mass than women, so they are able to perform better on physical activities than females. Between 2005-2007 the female pass rate of the physical ability test was 80% lower than their male counterparts.[17]


Delegates of the 3rd Annual Women in Policing Conference in Tbilisi, Georgia. March 4, 2014.

Despite women being in law enforcement for over one hundred years, they are still faced with discrimination and harassment. Female police officers often face discrimination from their fellow officers and many women encounter the "brass ceiling", meaning they are not able to move up in rank and can only go so far, as far as the imposing ceiling will allow.[19] Women are taught to overlook and minimize the discrimination they face.[20]

Discrimination and problems towards women in law enforcement are not just happening in the station house. Many female police officers that are married to other officers face a higher risk of domestic violence. Currently 27,000-36,000 female police officers may be a victim of domestic violence. Domestic Violence goes up to nearly 40%, from a normal societal level of 30%, in households of officers.[20]

While women are not as likely to be physically assaulted while on the job, they do face more sexual harassment, most of which comes from fellow officers. In 2009 77% of policewomen from thirty-five different counties have reported sexual harassment for their colleagues.[21] Women are asked to “go behind the station house” or are told other inappropriate things while on the job. Not only that, but there is often physical sexual harassment that takes place in the station house. So it is not only verbal, but also physical sexual harassment that women police officers face on a daily basis.[22]

Not only do women face the sexual harassment while in the work place, they are also expected to act like men. Female police officers are expected to act like their male police officers colleagues. Women are expected to curse, be manly, be tough and drink. While at the same time they are also expected to act like women so they do not outshine their male colleagues.[22]

Female police officers also experience greater mobility, frequently being moved from one assignment to another. As of 1973, 45% of women officers and 71% of male officers remained in their regular uniforms, 31% of women officers and 12% of male officers were given inside assignments, and 12% of female officers and 4% of male officers had other street assignments.[22] Female officers are less likely to be promoted within the department (going from officer to sergeant, sergeant to lieutenant, etc.) and are also more likely to be given different assignments and are less likely to keep the same beat (patrol position).

See also


  1. ^ History, European Network of Policewomen, in German, retrieved 22 January 2015
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^ Edith Tancred. Record 1 of 1 Code NA61.
  5. ^ a b c Peto, Dorothy (1993). The Memoirs of Miss Dorothy Olivia Georgiana Peto. Metropolitan Police Museum
  6. ^ Article, Women Police. He concluded that such employment was a matter for individual police authorities.Police Review and Parade Ground Gossip 5 April 1918. Page 110. Viewed June 2014.
  7. ^ The magazine Police Review and Parade Ground Gossip later printed a lengthy editorial on the possibility of employing women police officers. 12 April 1918. Viewed June 2014.
  8. ^ .Police Review and Parade Ground Gossip, 31 May 1918. Viewed June 2014.
  9. ^ Article by C.C. Wolverhampton> Police Review and Parade Ground Gossip5 July 1918. Viewed June 2014.
  10. ^ a b
  11. ^ City of Birmingham Police records, Form No. 50.
  12. ^
  13. ^
  14. ^ a b c
  15. ^
  16. ^ a b
  17. ^ a b
  18. ^
  19. ^
  20. ^ a b
  21. ^
  22. ^ a b c Breaking and Entering Policewomen on Patrol. Martin. University of California Press. London. 1980.
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