Monday, January 12, 2009

History of Police Women in the United States

The first police matrons appeared in the nineteenth century and, in 1905, the first documented appointment of a woman with police powers took place (Peyser 1985). Shortly thereafter in 1910 the first woman with full police power was hired by the Los Angeles Police Department (Melchionne 1976).
The early history of women police consisted largely of social service in which women had to meet higher standards for police employment, but received lower wages, were restricted to a special unit or bureau, and were assigned primarily to clerical, juvenile, guard duty and vice work (Schulz 1989). Women police were not permitted to be promoted except within their own special women's unit nor were they permitted to take the same promotion test as men. Finally, and most damaging for opportunities to demonstrate their general value to the organization, they were not permitted to perform basic patrol duties (Price and Gavin 1982, Peyser 1985). Women could only be promoted within their own bureaus because, they were told by their police superiors, they had not had the full "police experience" of being on general street patrol. It was, of course, the same male police administration that had refused over the years to assign women to general patrol and thus had blocked police women=s access to the required experience (Price and Gavin 1982). When women finally were given the opportunity, as a result of Federal law mandating equal opportunity regardless of gender or race, to perform general police work and serve on patrol, they demonstrated their fitness for police work. Or did they?
Almost all of the past research on women police has focused on the capabilities of women to perform police work; virtually all conclude that women, indeed, do have such ability. This capacity includes physical as well as mental and emotional fitness. Studies demonstrating women's capabilities have covered the areas of patrol work (Bloch and Anderson 1974, Sherman 1975, Townsey 1982) citizen satisfaction (Sherman 1975), police chief evaluations (Seligson 1985), response to hazardous situations (Elias 1984), academy academic performance (Elias 1984), physical capability (Townsey 1982), physical training receptivity (Moldon 1985), and the handling of violent confrontations (Moldon 1985, Grennan 1987).
The research literature also reveals that in entering police work women have encountered enormous difficulties, primarily as a result of the negative attitudes of the men. 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 (Bell 1982). Race, age and education seem to influence attitudes toward women: black officers were found to be somewhat more favorable toward women than white officers (Bell 1982, Bloch and Anderson 1974); and in St. Louis younger, better educated officers exhibited less negativism (Sherman 1975). In contrast, a study in Atlanta concluded flatly that male officers did not accept women as police officers (Remmington 1981). Horne (1980) has pointed out that the biggest challenge facing women officers is the resistance displayed by male officers in their attitudes toward women in policing. Hunt (1990) concluded that women police were harassed and resisted by the male officers because they feared that women would violate departmental (actually, their own) secrets about police corruption and violence. Thus, fear of exposure by women officers was cited by Hunt as the underlying cause of the significant resistance to women.
It is important to point out that the situation found in the U.S. and reported in the literature is similar to that found in European, Eastern European, Asian and Latin American countries. At an international conference on women and policing held in Amsterdam and sponsored by the European Network of Policewomen a workshop was convened on the role of femininity on police work. Women police from over twenty countries around the world shared information on the discriminatory treatment that they suffered at the hands of their male colleagues. A recent article on Polish women police notes that "Sometimes it happens that they (women police) are scarcely tolerated" (Trzcinska 1996).
In addition to police men's negative attitudes, women face a number of other major socially structured problems that are inherent in the larger society and are played out as well in policing. These include family responsibilities (Brookshire 1980, Martin 1980), role strain and role conflict (Martin 1980, Jacobs 1983) doubts about competence and self-worth (Glaser and Saxe 1982) sexual harassment (Wong 1984) and a concomitant fear of complaining about abuse (The Council of the City of New York, Committee on Women 1986) and, lastly, equipment and facilities inadequacies--including material conditions of such items as locker rooms (Horne 1980, Washington 1974), uniforms (Brookshire 1980), and patrol car seats (Horne 1980). Black women face additional obstacles, such as conflicts engendered by being both a black woman and a police officer, a type of stress which is currently unstudied. Thus there are many hurdles--both organizational and role-related--confronting women who choose police work as their career.

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