Women Police — #MeToo?

We have once again (almost) woken up to the glaring and embarrassing fact that too many men harass women sexually and get by with it.

It’s too easy for those of us who are male to fall into the “good old boy” club of beer, football, and being “macho.”

In my first years in policing, I could not imagine women doing the job I was doing. I mean, there was women’s work and men’s work — just like our fathers told us.

It was only after seven years on the street, a master’s degree, and a grant from my university to study European police, that I woke up. I came back to the U.S. with a profound appreciation of the work I saw women police officers do in Scandinavia, Germany and the U.K. I made the commitment to myself that if I was to get a chief’s job, I would bring women into my department and fight for their equal treatment.

So, when I became a chief a few years later, it was a short step for me to take to encourage my city and police commission to hire women — not as matrons or youth officers (“kiddie cops”), but as uniformed police officers working the same kind of work male officers did — and at the same pay.

I remember the early battles — both inside and outside my department, but when we hired our first class in 1974, the police department and the city itself, started to become a better place in which to live and work.

My wife retired from policing after 20 years of service and we have been together now for 36 years. She was a good cop (class of 1980) and commander. She worked across the street from me at the State Capitol and was the “wind beneath my wings.” We wrote books together and she gave me the perspective that I needed.

I have heard harassment stories from her and other women with whom I worked. That stuff should have never happened. It still angers me. And yet the women around me worked through it — but it still shouldn’t have had to happen in the first place.

While my former department maintains a strong percentage of women police officers (30+%), I am not foolish enough to believe sexual harassment doesn’t still occur. I have litigated too many cases as a chief and handed out my share of discipline to those officers who “didn’t get it.”

There is a subculture in policing that is both good and bad. The good is that officers work together and support one another — and that must be regardless of gender, race, or sexual orientation. The bad news is that in some departments, policing is still a “white boys club.”

If we are going to advance democratic policing in our country, our police departments must have at least 20% women officers. This I strongly believe. When we first reached the 20% number things settled down and we all began to work more effectively together. But that also meant making sure there was equality in assignments and promotions. It’s not enough to have women in the ranks, they also have to have special unit and command assignments. Having one or two women in your unit is simply not enough for the women to feel they have a voice and are supported.

You need to check out your police department and find out how many women are in your ranks — including supervisory and command positions. And if there are not at least 20% women overall you need to get active and encouraging.

Why? Women in the ranks of our police make the department in which they work a better police department. There is also positive secondary effect on the men with whom they work — they become better men, better husbands and fathers — and better cops!


See my earlier writings on the subject: