Women in Policing: The Goal is 50%

Reading the new report from the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) on “Women in Policing: Breaking Barriers and Blazing a Path.” I was dismayed that after being one of the leaders in the integration of women into policing 46 years ago the number of women in policing today remains “relatively stagnant” at 13%. We have missed the mark!

I also was left with the impression that the report neither addressed specifically HOW to break the barriers or blaze a path and the absolute vital role of leadership in doing so. I am not opposed to research efforts in policing. But historically, research has had little effect on changing police behavior. So, I have always opted for studying the problem as we actively work to improve it. And the best way to increase the numbers of women police is to have police leaders who are unwaveringly totally committed to this goal.

As I consider where we are today from where we aimed to go years ago I am troubled. In 2016, Jay Newton-Small wrote a seminal book on women in the workplace titled “Broad Influence: How Women Are Changing the Way America Works’” One of her important findings was that which I came to experience when we began hiring large numbers of women. Numbers matter and they matter greatly. A few tokens just won’t do. It’s worth a read.

NOTE: It takes a level of at least 20% women in a workforce for them to have a strong voice and “broad influence.Fifty percent would be a more equitable and reasonable goal today!

That is what we experienced in Madison. We needed to have at least 20% women in the department for their voices to be heard and have impact. (Madison today has one of the highest numbers of women police at 30%.) Thirteen percent won’t do it.

Police need to ratchet up their hiring and cultural practices in order to attract women to come and serve with them. This must come from the heart. Stress-based military boot camp police academies will not attract women candidates yet departments continue to do so.

Having a significant number of women in my workforce changed it for the better, much better. Of that I am absolutely sure. Women bring important skills to the workplace that most men are lacking. In short, we are better when we are together.

The following is part of the executive summary of the NIJ gathering in December of last year:

Despite efforts to increase representation, the percentage of women in law enforcement has remained relatively stagnant for the past few decades. Women constitute less than 13% of total officers and a much smaller proportion of leadership positions.

“There is limited empirical research on how to increase the number of women in policing, improve the recruitment of outstanding women, and increase the retention and promotion of exceptional women officers. There is also insufficient research for understanding the unique challenges that women officers face and how best to mitigate or overcome these challenges.

“On Dec. 3-4, 2018, the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) hosted the Research Summit on Women in Policing at our Washington, D.C., headquarters. Nearly 100 attendees participated, including sworn and civilian law enforcement officers from the United States and abroad, leading policing researchers, representatives from professional organizations and foundations, and federal partners.

The goal of the summit was to understand the current state of research relevant to women in American policing, and to generate a research agenda of questions that women leaders in the field have identified as priorities in moving the profession forward toward parity…”

Sorry, folks, what needs to happen is not just RESEARCH but specifically, do-able action in the ranks — a strong commitment to male-female parity within our nation’s police at all levels — including leadership.

Throughout the years I was chief in Madison the goal I set in order to diversify the department was this direction given to the recruiting and training staff: Every police academy must be at least 50% women and of color. No exceptions. It took 20 years to do this. And it started almost at year one.

Nevertheless, the NIJ report is worthwhile and needs to be read and discussed.

But most of all, police in America need top leaders who are unrelenting in their commitment to the 20% goal. I was fully, totally, and emotionally committed to bringing more women into policing. My officers knew this and how strongly I was committed — they fell in line and worked with me to make my vision happen because they also were experiencing the positive traits and characteristics women brought to the department.

Within a police agency there must be a strong expectations (with rules to back it up) regarding the prevention/elimination of any sexual or racial harassment in the ranks. Zero tolerance!

If you really want to know how to improve a workplace for under-represented persons, just ask them. They know what needs to be changed/improved. If a leader is serious about the question, they find out.

  • You are invited to search this site for more information on women in policing by typing “women in policing” in the search engine.
  • See also my book “Arrested Development” in the role of women in police improvement.
  • For a bit of the Madison story and why the goal should be at least 50% women officers.

Ed Note: Last week I wrote that militarizing police was a bad idea. Well, it’s also a bad idea if you are interested in increasing the number of women police in your agency. One of the offshoots of militarization is the “boot camp” (stressed-based) police academy. The following comes from the NIJ report:

A special report from the Bureau of Justice
Statistics indicates that in academies with a
predominantly stress-based military model
(e.g., paramilitary drills, intensive physical
demands, and public disciplinary measures),
female recruits had a 68% completion rate
compared to 81% for male recruits. In
academies with a predominantly nonstress
model (which includes an emphasis on
academic achievement, physical training,
and a supportive instructor-trainee
relationship), female and male recruits
both had a completion rate of 89%.

Press on! Become your vision of excellence and trustworthy service.


  1. Having more women and minorities on the force doesn’t mean much if they do the same thing that their male white counterparts do. That Portland police chief was an Afro-American woman but her attitude towards to the general population was no different than the rank and file officers under her command when she taunted the protestors by saying she will kick their butts during the first year on the job. She would not like it if a white cop said that to her.


    1. I hear what you are saying but here’s my point — I believe when women reach the 50+% mark they will begin to change the present culture which simply has too much testosterone. Unfortunately, some women police leaders have (in order to survive) gone along with “the way it’s always been.” I envision a much different and improved future way to police a free and diverse society! (For the newcomer to this blog site — do some searching and reading of my philosophy.)


  2. Thanks David. I love it at 50%. I may draw on this article and quote your experience for a local article. The goal of having 50% women was my goal during the campaign. My experience in the Wilshire Station also confirmed the inclusion of women in the ranks and in leadership significantly help us shift the culture to institutionalized quality.
    PS: I have not see the article you upgraded for me for the blog. The local paper asked me to comment on the lastest developments re Use of Deadly Force so the timing is perfect. I will send the article to them as well. Thanks again,

    From: Improving Police
    Reply-To: Improving Police
    Date: Tuesday, August 27, 2019 at 1:26 PM
    To: John Mutz
    Subject: [New post] Women in Policing: The Goal is 50%

    improvingpolice posted: ” Reading the new report from the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) on “Women in Policing: Breaking Barriers and Blazing a Path.” I was dismayed that after being one of the leaders in the integration of women into policing 46 years ago the number of”


    1. Yes. Perhaps a national movement is in order: “Fifty Percent!.” I had the same soul-moving experience in Madison—women are great cops, they changed our culture for the better! Now let’s move forward…


  3. I understand what you are saying about the female cops; however, the situation could have been turned around a long time ago, if a;; the good cops hadn’t been driven off the force by various means, if the politicians, judges, DAs. and police unions would have support reforms a long time ago, and if certain groups of people were allowed to join the police force like people with high IQs or members of the American Communist Party.


  4. As much as I appreciate the sentiment, I want qualified cops – male or female – to be working alongside me while on the job. As a female officer, I strive to embody excellence and encourage that sentiment among my colleagues.


    1. Absolutely! Going for equality doesn’t mean dropping competence. In the early days, resistance to women and minority candidates was based on “we can’t get them to apply” when the problem was in recruiting, training. And leadership. When I talk about a 50% goal I am talking about smart, well-trained and led men and women. The goal is excellence in policing!


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