Few Female Police Officers in Pittsburgh’s Suburbs

There are approximately 1,555,770 sworn police officers in the United States.  So if the national workforce is 53% male, 47% female (according to the 2008 U.S. Census, though recent estimates have women breaking the 50% mark), then it would reasonable to deduce that we would have approximately 824,560 male officers and at least 731,210 female officers, right?

Instead, there are only 110,670 women (15.5% of all officers) wearing state or local badges in America.  This disparity in law enforcement is additional evidence that gender stereotyping of occupations still exists and is just a portion of the bigger picture that demonstrates an overwhelming number of women being employed in educational services, health care and social assistance industries while being underrepresented in other fields.

In Allegheny County, that disparity is exemplified in the number of female law enforcement officers employed by suburban police departments.  The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that in their survey of 30 departments in the county, they found only 22 female agents out of 740 law enforcement agents – and that exactly half of those departments have no female officers.  This is something that should be taken seriously, as the Post-Gazette writes:

Few dispute the necessity of having female officers. Women who are victims or suspects can relate more easily to a female officer, and female officers consistently are needed for searches and prisoner transfers. Departments without women regularly request assistance from female officers in neighboring departments for searches, or sometimes they train female civilians on staff to conduct searches.

While there is no question that women have the emotional and physical ability to become law enforcement officers, the  recruiting of female officers is hindered by many obstacles:

Diane Skoog, executive director of the National Association of Women Law Enforcement Executives and former police chief in Carver, Mass., attributed the disparity to a lack of recruiting, less diversity in suburban areas and few mentors to draw women to the field.

She also noted that significantly fewer women take the civil service examinations to become officers, so the number of women who have the opportunity to advance is not large. Representatives of the 30 departments the Post-Gazette interviewed said they used either a civil service commission or some other authoritative committee to conduct examinations and create ranked listings of top candidates for police jobs. Departments are required to hire according to where candidates place on the list following written and physical examinations. Recruits also receive points on the exam for military service, a qualification that Chief [Ophelia] Coleman believes favors men.

Professional support is important but often lacking.  Research indicates that the prevalent negative attitudes that male colleagues display towards their female counterparts are significant difficulties for the latter group:

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.

Finally, the demanding hours required of officers makes the job unrealistic for many women:

Joelle Dixon, of the Bethel Park police department, noted that some women can’t find a way to care for their families while working the demanding hours required of officers.

“I’m a mother, and they don’t have traditional day care when you work a midnight shift. I have a tremendous support system that makes my job possible,” she said.

Not only are women needed to provide better safety for the community, they are needed to create a more equitable balance in the work field.  We can increase the number of female law enforcement officers by eliminating gender barriers, encouraging women to pursue their interests despite existing gender stereotypes, and promoting a more equitable family structure that emphasizes equal responsibility between parents.  When this can be achieved, all women will have better opportunities of fulfilling their interests and potential in professional life.

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