Women in Policing

This email came to my inbox after I posted the incident about having to deal with an unpredictable bus rider.   The woman who wrote this raises some serious questions and she agreed to let me publish her letter with the hopes others would benefit from it as well as chime in with their own opinions and experiences.

Before I try my best to answer her, you need to understand the answers are going to be subjective and others may have drastically different views on women’s role in policing.

Differences in opinion are a good thing and I’m interested to hear what other have to say in response to this email, so let ‘er rip with the comments.  Just keep them clean, please.

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Hi Sandra,

For a long time now I’ve been trying to figure out what kind of balance a female police officer has to make while working.

On one hand, you can’t be ultra-feminine or you will not be taken seriously, but being a super cranky female police officer doesn’t seem to do more than enforce stereotypes about women in law enforcement. Where do you feel female police officers fit into all of this? What’s your personal stance? I’ve been a bit worried because it’s still my dream to join the police but I am 5’2, 120 pounds and I don’t want to ever come off as a joke even though I know there are numerous petite sized police officers out there.

Listening to a retired recruiting officer made me a little disheartened. He talked about what he “looked for” in potential police officers and mentioned that he looked for “strong, broad shoulders, someone who looked like they could fight me.”

But is it always about fighting and intimidation? To a certain point I feel intimidation has its place and looking tough does have its advantages, but where do women who are not necessarily muscular and “broad-shouldered” fit in?

I would appreciate any sort of input you have on this.

Thank you!

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When it comes to balance, all police officers have to remember to be themselves.  Women are still going to be women, and men are still going to be men.  Each gender brings something different to the job and it is those differences recruiters try to expand on.  Overall, recruiters are looking for level headed, emotionally stable, fit people who are willing to work in a demanding environment.  It’s a little more complicated than that, but for the sake of keeping this short, it’ll do.

Now, about being feminine – you can still be a cop and be a girl. 

You can still have nice hair, wear a bit of make-up, and by all means, the fitter you are the better.  You just have to be prepared to get dirty and to not give a hoot what you look like if you get strung through the ringer.  One night on the way back to the station after a particularly long and intense call, my partner looked at me sideways as he took in my ripped uniform, sweaty face and the halo of blond hair frizzed about my head after some of it came loose from its bun.  

“You look like you’ve been drug through a knothole backwards!” he said.  And I did.  But I was thinking how we had made an excellent arrest, not about what my hair looked like. 

So keep it in check.  As a police officer you are expected to take care of the issue, not become it.

Also, there is about as much room for the uber-bitch female officer as there is for the woman who seems to have had a starring role in all those early-eighties horror flicks (you know the one – the girl who would run away, arms flailing, while screaming in a breathy voice only to fall over a toothpick and cower on the ground as her ability to save herself vanished with an audible *poof*).  Unfortunately, most police agencies have at least one police officer who falls into each of these extremes, both male and female, and the VPD is no different.  It happens.  I wish it didn’t.

Besides, cranky is just plain cranky.  It might make for a good movie, but in real life you won’t make many friends on the force (except for other grumps) and being cranky will only make your job much more difficult.  You can be tough but you must be fair, at least most of the time.

Don’t let your physical size become your issue.  Sure, being tall and muscular has advantages, but so does being smaller and more lithe.  You must know what you are physically capable of doing, and you must know when it’s better to wait for backup, regardless of your size. 

I know several shorter in stature officers, men and women alike, and here’s the thing about the good ones – they know how to do their job and they do it very well.  No one thinks they are a joke and their size simply doesn’t matter.  There are jobs where size does matter, but it’s less important in policing now than it was a few decades ago (perhaps when this retired officer was working recruiting?).

Every incident requiring a police response is situational and it’s most definitely no longer all about ‘fighting and intimidation.’  Yes, sometimes you have to fight but you must be prepared to use your verbal skills as well.  

There are many people more experienced than I who have opinions on this and if any of them feel like adding to this, please do – I’ve skimmed quite a bit (plus, I’ve run out of steam…I need to go to sleep now). 

I’m sure the woman on the other end of this email would appreciate it very much!

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