According to the 2003 Sourcebook of Criminal Justice Statistics, women account for about 10.6% of all police officers in the United States. While this number reflects an increase in the number of women working as police officers, it falls short of the percentage many departments want to be reflective of their communities.
When questioned about the low number of women personnel, most administrators cite a lack of interest from female candidates. Administrators who accept this as the reason for female under-representation fail to recognize the necessity of proactive recruiting efforts and the success that these efforts have had in increasing the number of female applicants.
Those police agencies that adopt progressive recruiting strategies that target women have proved effective. The Albuquerque, NM Police, the Tucson, AZ Police, the Delaware State Police and the San Jose, CA Police are agencies that using targeted recruitment have doubled, tripled or quadrupled the percentage of women on the force. When women are aggressively pursued through police department recruitment efforts, they will apply, they will be selected to attend the academy, complete their basic training and work productively as sworn police officers.
Various agencies and groups have developed self-assessment guides to evaluate an agency’s general work environment and policies, i.e., an agency’s recruitment strategies and hiring practices, physical fitness test standards, academy training, field training program, the promotional process, overall employee morale and the department’s sexual harassment policies.
The goal of this type of assessment is to help police administrators identify areas that could be improved to better attract women and other minority candidates to the job. It is an important starting point before implementing women-specific recruitment strategies because even if more women apply for police positions, the working environment must be one that makes women want to stay.
According to the Institute for Women in Trades, Technology and Science, women are more likely to be interested in untraditional occupations, such as policing, when they are actively recruited and encouraged to pursue them. With this knowledge in mind, the next question is, “What are the best strategies to effectively recruit female police officers?”
The first step is to abandon the traditional recruiting strategy that involves advertising vacant positions and then simply waiting for candidates to apply. The fact is that despite a slight patriotic surge in interest after Sept 11, 2001, there has been a steady decline in interest in public safety jobs over the past decade. Progressive administrators who recognize this change need to implement recruitment tactics that parallel the private sector.
Recruiters should seek to identify the population that is desired and then create strategies that will reach out to that specific portion of the population. This is common practice in the business world and is making a gradual crossover into the public sector. Police administrators who aim to create diverse departments need to understand and embrace these new strategies and need to implement them within their own agencies. A number of different specific steps can be taken to recruit women police officers.
Diverse Recruitment Team
Each police department should have a recruitment team whose job it is to go out into the community to educate potential candidates about police employment and to attract these potential candidates to the job. The recruitment staff should reflect the type of candidates that it seeks to hire. One of the barriers that prevents women from considering a job as a police officer is the absence of female role models and mentors working in police positions. Potential candidates who are visiting career fairs will be more open to consider a police job if they see women recruiters and are able to talk with women officers about their experiences working for the police department.
The Department’s Web site
Most police departments today maintain some form of a Web page with information about their respective departments. Many of these Web pages include basic information about the department and often include a sub-page on employment, but the information is extremely limited and most often consists of salary and benefits information, the steps in the hiring process, upcoming test dates and the basic job requirements.
In today’s society, the Internet is often the primary tool that people use to conduct research and to gather information. Administrators need to understand that Web pages may be the critical source of information for members of the public and for potential candidates alike. Most candidates will visit a department’s Web page before their employment, and the information included on the site, as well as the overall presentation, will affect a potential candidate’s consideration of applying for employment. Web pages should be viewed as a great opportunity to advertise the department to community members and to potential candidates.
Departmental Web pages should also maintain online applications. Many police departments still require that candidates go to the police department, request an application packet, fill it out and return it to the agency. Online applications are more accessible to interested candidates and are easier for police administrators to process. Online applications also remove the added requirement that a candidate go into a police station, which may be a psychological hurdle for some interested candidates in the early phases of the hiring process.
The Web page should include a special section for women who are interested in employment. The FBI, the Omaha, NE Police, the Michigan State Police and the San Antonio, TX Police all maintain detailed Web pages that include a specific section for female candidates. The FBI and the San Antonio Web sites contain specific information on the value of female agents and officers, the physical fitness test requirements, benefits package information, answers to questions that are commonly asked by women candidates and profiles of women who currently work as special agents, officers and supervisors.
Female Officers in Recruiting Material
Most agencies create recruitment posters and brochures that recruitment personnel bring to career fairs and colleges to hand out to interested applicants. It is imperative that these brochures contain images of female officers, detectives and supervisors working alongside their male peers. A general rule of thumb is that all Web pages, brochures and posters with images of police officers should contain women in a third of the pictures. The Web pages maintained by the Los Angeles Police Department and the Tucson Police are fine examples of putting this principle into practice.
Those that design the Web pages and brochures should ensure that the pictures of female officers are not limited to certain types of police work. Women working as supervisors, in special response or tactical teams and on the street should be included.
Recruit from Untraditional Locations
Traditionally, recruitment teams have gone to local colleges that have criminal justice programs to speak with criminal justice students. The problem is that the majority of criminal justice majors are men. If recruiters are looking to diversify their applicant pool, they need to pursue other avenues. It is important to remember that many male police officers do not have degrees in criminal justice and instead have studied psychology, English, sociology and even computer science in their undergraduate studies.
Due to the nature of the job, all of these college majors are applicable to the type of work that police officers do every day. Having an educationally diverse workforce can strengthen the ability of police departments to respond to the wide variety of calls that are received. Having employees with different strengths is imperative to today’s professional police departments. To actively attract female candidates, recruiters must seek out alternate locations such as high schools, women’s colleges or liberal arts colleges.
Think outside the box. Think about where potential women candidates might congregate. Target areas where athletic women and women who already participate in hobbies that are traditionally dominated by males would be found such as athletic clubs, martial arts studios, local sports leagues and even the athletic departments of local colleges. Women who are currently in the armed forces or the reserves should also be targeted.
The recruitment team should also make every effort to participate in larger career fairs that will attract a wider variety of candidates. This should be pursued at both the high school and college levels.
The lack of female role models is a barrier for many women who are interested in policing as a career. It is essential that departments that want to attract women candidates have women working in a variety of different positions to highlight the many opportunities that a department has to offer and the equity in the promotional process and assignment to special units. Female officers working as detectives, tactical team officers, street supervisors and high-ranking administrators need to exist on a department to reflect the department’s commitment to equality and fairness.
Emphasize Active Recruiting Most departments maintain some sort of written policy and procedure on recruitment. These policies are fairly rudimentary and usually contain the basic requirements for the job and the step-by-step process of being hired. Progressive departments that are seeking to diversify the make-up of their agencies need to rewrite their recruitment policies to better reflect and detail the department’s proactive recruitment strategies.
Keep Sexism Out of the Workplace
Regardless of the recruitment strategies, female candidates are going to want to work and want to stay working for agencies that do not promote or tolerate sexism. Administrators and first-line supervisors alike need to pay special attention to daily duty assignments, selection to special units, promotions and general treatment. This philosophy needs to come from the top down. The fact is, even if an administrator uses all of these strategies and greatly increases the number of female applicants, female candidates may not follow through with the hiring process or might leave the job after a short time if they find that there is favoritism and sexism within the work environment.
Positive Interactions with the Community
The most common interaction that general citizens have with the police is through traffic enforcement and accident response. Even beyond traffic stops, a lot of citizens interact with police officers under difficult conditions and for short periods of time. Although money is tight and most departments are buckling down on financial expenditures, there are successful outreach programs that are inexpensive and easy to implement.
One of the best of these programs is the Citizen Police Academy. This program invites citizens to attend classes taught by police officers. Not only does this program educate the public about the law and police response, it creates positive interactions between police and community members. Other similar programs might involve self-defense classes, home security assessments and safety programs for kids.
People who have had positive contacts with department members through any of these otherwise valuable programs might be more likely to consider a job as a police officer. Many times, people who are approached by police recruiters say that they had never considered a career in policing because they just never thought of it. Community outreach programs are a great way to plant this seed with potential candidates. These programs are also more likely to foster the support of family members whose loved one is considering a job in law enforcement.
The argument that women simply aren’t interested is no longer valid. The key element in progressive recruiting is the adoption of proactive strategies. Departments that want more women officers can no longer rely on traditional recruiting methods. They must design and implement recruitment strategies that target the specific goal of attracting minority candidates.
Detective Jody Kasper has been a police officer for 10 years and is currently assigned to the Detective Bureau with the Northampton Police Department. She also is an adjunct faculty member at Elms College in Chicopee, MA. She can be reached at email@example.com.