Women in Policing: The Assumption of Gender Difference Working Paper # 2010-02 October 2010 Michelle Comeau Center for Public Safety Initiatives Rochester Institute of Technology [email protected] edu John Klofas Center for Public Safety Initiatives Rochester Institute of Technology 585-475-2423 John. [email protected] edu 1 Abstract A primary argument for the introduction of women into policing is the belief that women bring to the field gender-unique skills and abilities.
This argument of “special competencies” has shaped the way women have worked in the field for the last one hundred and seventy years. This paper, the second in the Women in Policing series, examines the assumption of gender difference, the impact of sex role theory on policing, found differences, and the similarities between men and women on patrol. The paper concludes by acknowledging that, while there are inevitably some differences between genders, these differences are not nearly as pronounced as is generally assumed. In 1910 Alice Stebbins Wells was hired by the Los Angeles Police Department – effectively becoming the first female officer in the United States – after she successfully petitioned that women were a necessity in policing. The basis of her argument lied in the notion that female officers would bring to the field special competencies that would allow them to handle female- and juvenile-related crimes more effectively than male officers (Garcia, 2003; Grennan, 2000; Price & Gavin, 1981; Lehtinen, 1976).
Now, just over a century later, Well’s argument remains one of the primary reasons why women are considered important to law enforcement (Sklansky, 2006). The belief in gender-unique strengths and weaknesses – competencies – is common; traits are thought to be innate or obtained through socialization and are largely seen as gender-specific (Sklansky, 2006). For example, women are thought to be more communicative, nurturing, and empathetic, and less aggressive then men (Rabe-Hemp, 2008a; Rabe-Hemp, 2008b; Garcia, 2003; Lonsway, 2003). Throughout the history of law enforcement, special competencies have operated as a double-edged sword.
They have done much to stymie the full integration of women into the field. Prior to 1973, female officers were employed in Womens’ Bureaus and even after the dissolution of these bureaus, women continued to be disproportionately tasked with handling juvenile- and female-related victims and offenders, and domestic and sexual assault (RabeHemp, 2008a; Rabe-Hemp, 2008b; Garcia, 2003; Grant, 2000; Price & Gavin, 1981). Conversely, special competencies have also been one of the primary reasons for the introduction and proliferation of women in the field.
As the community-oriented policing model – a model that, arguably, supports the traits believed to be innately held by women – was adopted and spread throughout the nineteen eighties and nineties, female representation increased dramatically (Rabe-Hemp, 2008a; Rabe-Hemp, 2008b; Garcia, 2003). Their assumed 3 hesitancy to engage in violence led to what were at the time – though later found to be factual – claims that women would be less likely to engage in excessive force or be the subjects of citizen complaints (Rabe-Hemp, 2008b; Garcia, 2003; Lonsway, 2003).
In many ways women have been presented as catalysts within the field, their special competencies – coupled with their gender – believed to alter the nature of the organization to its very core in both definition and function (Sklansky, 2006; Grant, 2000). Sex Role Theory For much of history special competencies were believed to be obtained biologically: men and women behaved in different ways as they were born different. Only recently has the adoption of traits and behaviors been examined as a byproduct of socialization (Garcia, 2003).
Sex Role Theory – the belief that children are raised to acquire divergent traits based on their gender – sets out to explain the adoption of traits by men and women through this socialperspective (Garcia, 2003). Sex Role Theory does not argue that men or women innately hold certain traits, but that traits are obtained and reinforced through in child- and adulthood through interacting with family, friends, social institutions, and the media (Adler, 1999; Connell, 1985).
According to the theory, men are raised to be goal-oriented and aggressive, whereas women are raised to be passive and dependent –those who do not adhere to the behaviors believed held by their genders are marked as deviant, serving to remind others of the importance of conforming to gender expectations (Garcia, 2003; Adler, 1999). Women who enter into policing may not typically engage in what is considered to be stereotypically feminine behavior (Rabe-Hemp, 2008b). Due to the different ways in which men and women are raised it is argued that women are able to draw upon a much greater range of 4 olicing styles than men (Grant, 2000). It is believed that women largely police in a substantially different way than men and rely more on interpersonal communication than raw strength (Silvestri, 2007). This focus on interpersonal communication is believed to stay with women as they advance through the police hierarchy – resulting in a leadership style that promotes communication and participation (Silvestri, 2007). While women nationally are underrepresented in administrative positions in policing, it is believed that the increase of women in police management will allow for substantial organizational change (Silvestri, 2007).
Sex Role Theory and the belief of separate competencies have done much to hamper female officers in their attempts to gain the same roles as men in patrol. Although women are believed to have special abilities – empathy and communicativeness – that make them more capable than men in handling certain situations, such as those involving female or juvenile victims, they are believed to be less capable than men when it comes to handling violent or potentially violent tasks that demand strength and aggression (Grant, 2000).
The belief that women will be better in certain activities sequesters them to those fields – thereby denying them opportunities to develop in other areas of the field, while reinforcing gender stereotypes; such expectations will result in even greater censure if a woman fails to meet gendered expectations (Grant, 2000). According to Sex Role Theory the prevalence of sexual discrimination and treatment of women within policing is based on the societal expectation that women will fail in the field (Connell, 1985). If this were true, then he problems women face in policing could be overcome by a breakdown of the stereotypes and roles of women, anti-discrimination laws, and equal opportunity programs (Connell, 1985). In truth, scant research has examined gender’s impact on the daily aspects of police work (Rabe-Hemp, 2008b). Women are promoted as worthwhile hires 5 based on their presumed communicative and empathetic abilities, yet in assuming women hold certain gender stereotypes those in charge of hiring will lose sight of candidates’ actual strengths and capabilities (Rabe-Hemp, 2008b).
Indeed, at the core of the argument lies a sexist notion of what it means to be a man versus a woman; compared to women, men are believed to be rational, collective, and decisive – all of which are traits necessary to police (Lehtinen, 1976). The idea that women hold the antithesis to these aforementioned traits is wholly damaging to their image within the field and serves only to further the notion that, because of their gender, women cannot and will not ever be able to police as effectively as men (Lehtinen, 1976).
Proponents of special competencies argue that increasing representation will result in a more effective force; this is supported in the belief that women are more effective in handling domestic violence, in building rapport with the community, and are less costly than men as they will be less likely to be involved in excessive force complaints (Silvestri, 2007). It is rather ironic that, despite these positive claims, a number of negative ones have been propagated as well: female officers are believed to lack the physical strength necessary to police (Garcia, 2003).
This has been held as truth despite countless studies that have indicated that women are as capable as men in handling violent or potentially violent situations and that there is no difference in how they handle daily violence, save for women being less likely to utilize deadly force (Garcia, 2003; Grennan, 2000). Traits like passivity, non-aggression, competitiveness, and aggression, while inherent in every individual, come to be gendered – the former two feminine and the latter two masculine (Grennan, 2000).
The belief that women will engage in the first two traits has been routinely used to prohibit their placement within policing. Indeed, if women were to behave in the manner proscribed to them, it seems unlikely that they would ever be able to successfully enter into 6 policing (Grennan, 2000). Even as women advance in rank they face opposition; there is a notion that the traits believed to be held by women are incompatible with leadership positions, some males are even offended by the idea of a female superior (Silvestri, 2007; Burke & Mikkelsen, 2005).
As it stands, Sex Role Theory is inadequate for explaining the differences between men and women in policing. The theory basic premise that men’s more frequent success is due to the fact that they are raised to have goal-oriented traits and behaviors ignores the differential level of power men have exerted over women throughout history (Connell, 1985). At its core Sex Role Theory is voluntaristic: it argues that men and women are rewarded for adhering to role norms and punished for deviation; by this logic men and women eventually would voluntarily choose to maintain this behavior (Connell, 1985).
While Sex Role Theory can serve to explain men and women’s behavior at any one instance in time, the theory fails to work when examining how gender-roles have changed over time (Connell, 1985). Differences Between Genders In 1972 the Equal Opportunity Act and Title VII removed many of the barriers women faced in their attempts to obtain work as patrol officers (Rabe-Hemp, 2009; Rabe-Hemp, 2008a; Rabe-Hemp, 2008b; Seklecki & Paynich, 2007; Grennan, 2000; Price & Gavin, 1981; Lehtinen, 1976).
Since then, a wealth of research has examined the effectiveness of female patrol officers in comparison to their male counterparts. In their early years of serving female patrol officers faced some reservations in the public –primarily on their ability to handle riot control or fights – however, research later proved these feelings to be unfounded (Lehtinen, 1976). In fact, the sum of the research conducted as far back as 1976 has held that, if provided access to equal training, female patrol officers are able to perform every task necessary in policing as well as male officers and are an asset in many situations (Burke & Mikkelsen, 2005; Grant, 2000; Lehtinen, 1976). The vast majority of research on women in policing has looked at their ability to perform activities that have come to be seen as the most masculine aspects of the field; that is, many studies thus far have examined whether women would display physical aggression or force when it is required of them (Rabe-Hemp, 2008b).
There is the belief that female officers would be hesitant to display necessary force for fear of injury to themselves or others; indeed, many male officers believe that their female counterparts cannot effectively support them in dangerous situations due to their relative lack of physical strength (Rabe-Hemp, 2008b; Dantzker & Kubin, 1998). Occupationally, female officers are more frequently charged with the handling of domestic- and child-related incidents, or employed as community policing officers than their male counterparts (Rabe-Hemp, 2008b; Burke & Mikkelsen, 2005).
In looking at the historical role of women in law enforcement, this should come as no surprise; yet women have been found to be as competent as men in handling violent citizens and may, in fact, be better at calming agitated ones (Grant, 2000). Indeed, even the assumption that women would be more likely to resort to deadly force in violent conversations due to their smaller statures is false (Grennan, 2000).
Research indicates that women tend to use lower levels of force compared to men in arrest situations, and similar levels to men in general; furthermore, male officers are more likely to resort to firing weapons than their female counterparts (Rabe-Hemp, 2008b; Grennan, 2000). In general, female officers have been found to be much less likely to make use of threats, restraints, arrests, and searches than male officers; they are also less likely than male officers to 8 e the subjects of citizen or police brutality complaints (Rabe-Hemp, 2008b; Seklecki & Paynich, 2007; Grant, 2000; Price & Gavin, 1981). Female officers do report lower levels of professional efficacy than their male counterparts and higher rates of attrition (Burke & Mikkelsen, 2005). Women’s higher attrition is due not to job dissatisfaction, but to the additional responsibilities placed upon them after having children (Burke & Mikkelsen, 2005; Dantzker & Kubin, 1998).
While they have a lower percentage rate of attrition, men are more likely to leave the field due to frustration with one or more aspects of their work; despite this, male and female job satisfaction is largely similar (Dantzker & Kubin, 1998). Female officers tend to be younger, higher educated, work in larger departments, less cynical, drink less, and are more likely single than their male counterparts (Sklansky, 2006; Burke & Mikkelsen, 2005).
Although their rates of suicide are lower than those of male officers, the female officer rate of suicide is significantly higher than that of women within the general population (Burke & Mikkelsen, 2005). While women are, in general, more likely to behave in an empathetic and passive manner than men, this does not hold true for women officers (RabeHemp, 2008b). While engaged in their work, female officers are more likely to give advice or commands than display empathetic or compassionate behavior; indeed, their behavior while in the field mirrors that of their male counterparts (Rabe-Hemp, 2008b).
Since 1972, only one study has concluded that women are a detriment on patrol. Conducted by a Philadelphian Police Department as part of their defense against a sexual discrimination lawsuit, the study determined that women were able to manage armed citizens, domestic disturbances, and traffic stops better than their male counterparts, and made and handled arrests as well as the male officers; however, the study concluded that female officers 9 were less efficient and did not patrol as safely as male officer which justified the department’s discriminatory hiring practices (Garcia, 2003).
In light of the evidence presented within the study, the court did not heed the study’s conclusion and the department was required to alter their hiring practices (Garcia, 2003). While calling women a catalyst for change is somewhat excessive, female presence has been linked to improvements in department image, service capability, and crime suppression; female presence has also been linked to the re-evaluation of policy and hiring practices, most likely due in no small part to the fact that many policies were created to keep women out of patrol (Price & Gavin, 1981).
Minor differences have been found in how men and women patrol – but women are just as competent as men on patrol (Grant, 2000). Indeed, public opinion has shifted in the last forty years where they now view male and female officers at comparable levels of competence (Burke & Mikkelsen, 2005). In sum, while there are differences between men and women on patrol, none lend support to the belief that female officers are innately more empathetic than male officers.
Despite the gendered perception that women would be better suited to such work, there appears to be no reason why female officers should be more frequently tasked with handling domestic- or childrelated incidents (Rabe-Hemp, 2008b; Lehtinen, 1976). Similarities There is a general assumption of difference between gender; however, in such a strict adherence to this viewpoint the similarities among men and women are largely ignored (Sklansky, 2006).
Much of the research on officers has indicated that men and women are drawn to policing for similar reasons and that there is little difference in how they see their roles (Raganella & White, 2004; Dantzker & Kubin, 1998). Despite a perception of the contrary, 10 female officers employed in the same capacity as male officers are no more likely than their male counterparts to engage in stereotypical feminine, empathetic behaviors (Rabe-Hemp, 2008b).
While female officers reportedly do experience lesser levels of violence and threats than their male counterparts, they also experience exponentially higher levels of sexual harassment and discrimination (Burke & Mikkelsen, 2005). This harassment is meted out by both fellow officers and members of the general public (Burke & Mikkelsen, 2005). Despite the level of dissatisfaction women have with their treatment on the force, female officers seem to display a high level of job satisfaction (Dantzker & Kubin, 1998).
Male and female officer work satisfaction, social and coping resources, and psychological and physical health are rated comparably (Burke & Mikkelsen, 2005). Their career satisfaction ratings are similar to male officers and the same two concerns – job security and the ability to help others – attracted them to the field in the first place (Raganella & White, 2004; Danzker & Kubin, 1998). It has been indicated that an officer’s rank is more likely to influence their judgments rather than gender (Dick & Jankcowicz).
Indeed, every study thus far indicates that women perform as well as men, and in some instances are better suited to the position; they have been found to be less likely to use excessive force, better at de-escalating potentially violent encounters, better at establishing rapport with the community, and more likely to effectively handle domestic violence situations (Sklansky, 2006). Because women typically feel less support from their coworkers and supervisors, their hesitancy to engage in excessive force as readily as male officers makes sense as that behavior would make them likely to receive censure (RabeHemp, 2008b).
It is commonly held that women are able to perform all but 1% of police work (RabeHemp, 2008a ; Garcia, 2003). But what is this 1%? Indeed, strength has not been found to be 11 correlated with police effectiveness in managing dangerous situations and while gender differences have been found within use of force and arrest, it is not known whether that is due to assignment or a tangible different policing style (Rabe-Hemp, 2008a; Garcia, 2003). For example, if women are overrepresented in community-oriented policing – and they are – it would make sense that they would display less force and arrest less than men (Rabe-Hemp, 2008a).
Likewise, female officer’s supposed reluctance to engage in aggressive force is not a bad thing: citizen and officer injury is linked to over-, not under-, use of force (Rabe-Hemp, 2008b). Perhaps the reason for Well’s argument to continue stems from female officer’s higher likelihood of being assigned to community policing units; in such instances officers will be less likely than regular patrol officers to face violent situations so this, in turn, would have an impact on the officer’s behavior (Rabe-Hemp, 2008b).
Indeed, many of the assumptions made of women lie in their current placement, as women are overwhelmingly placed in community-oriented policing units and are largely responsible for handling domestic violence situations and female and juvenile victims; it makes sense that there would be a perception that they are especially capable at handling such cases (Lonsway, 2003). Despite men and women performing similarly in the field, the field has not taken great strides to make itself pen to female officers. Indeed, many women find the position incompatible with their needs once they have children – aside from impacting attrition, this fact likely has some influence on why so few women are in ranks above patrol (Dick & Jankcowicz, 2001). Law enforcement is in dire need of reform to address both maternity and paternity leave as men – like women – can also place importance on family (Dick & Jancowicz, 2001). 12
Furthermore, women and men are viewed differently in performance; the special capabilities women are perceived to have in domestic violence situations result in them being treated more harshly when they fail to adequately handle such situations (Grant, 2000). It is important to remember how far we as a society have advanced, even in the last fifty years; the argument that sex roles are learned – though still inadequate – has done much to help break the notion that men and women conform to their roles due to an innate biological drive to do so (Adler, 1999).
Every man and woman is unique and has his or her own experiences that have shaped how he or she views the world; women who enter into policing may wish simply wish to pursue a career that interests them – regardless of stereotyped expectations (Rabe-Hemp, 2008b; Adler, 1999). Conclusion Although women make up only 11. 7% of state and local officers – with numbers per department having wide variation – the public is supportive of them and believes them to be as effective as male officers in most situations (FBI, 2009; Grant, 2000).
Despite this, women who wish to enter the field face barriers and those who are appointed become targets of sexist peers and chauvinistic work practices (Lonsway, 2003). This is somewhat ironic, as the Knapp Commission – which was created in the early 1970s to address the corruption and brutality that was pandemic throughout the police organization – found that much of the concerns regarding the organization were based on its hyper-masculine image (Seklecki & Paynich, 2007).
Regardless of their actual ability, the notion that male and female officers have different strengths and weaknesses on patrol has impacted their assignments and the way they are perceived by both the public and their department (Burke & Mikkelsen, 2005; Grant, 2000). Women more frequently handle juvenile and female victims, as it is assumed that as a woman 13 the officer will know how to best handle the case (Burke & Mikkelsen, 2005; Grant, 2000). If a female officer fails to adequately handle a situation she is perceived to have special competency in, she will receive a harsher sanction than would be received if she were male (Grant, 2000).
This form of contextual discrimination is harmful as it implies not only that female officers should predominantly handle such cases, but that male officers are inadequate to do so (Grant, 2000). There are differences between men and women, but not nearly to the extent implied in Sex Role Theory; traits that can be seen in either sex have become gendered, and the mere fact that an individual is male or female will make others assume his or she manifests what are assumed to be gender-appropriate traits (Connell, 1985).
In policing, this results in the belief that female officers will be more empathetic and communicative, which is supported in departments where women find themselves placed in situations where they are required to be empathetic and communicative – leading to a sort of confirmation bias; in order for such stereotypes to be overcome it would be necessary for the department to reevaluate how it assigns male and female officers (Rabe-Hemp, 2008b; Price & Gavin, 1981). For some time it has been argued that women need only be given equal treatment as men in order to be fully accepted into policing (Lehtinen, 1976).
Yet, because of perceived gender differences, female officers have a qualitatively different experience than male officers (Burke & Mikkelsen, 2005). While the community-oriented policing philosophy has promoted the usage of women in law enforcement, it has done so at the expense of assuming that female officers will manifest gendered traits (Garcia, 2003). Regardless of whether or not women have special competencies that would enable them to handle victims more effectively, they are an important part of the workforce and efforts should 14 be made to increase their representation (Tipper, 2004).
It would behoove departments to treat male and female officers as equals and understand that each has their own strengths and weaknesses based on who he or she is as a person, not as a product of their gender (Tipper, 2004; Connell, 1985). Indeed, until that time, departments who place officers on assumptions of gender will deny themselves access to talented individuals from all backgrounds (Burke & Mikkelsen, 2005; Tipper, 2004). 15 References Adler, F. (1999). Sisters in Crime. In F. T. Cullen & R. Agnew (Eds. ), Criminological Theory: Past to Present Essential Readings (347-354).
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