Multiple cases of police killing unarmed people stream across our televisions and computers these days – thanks to body cameras worn by officers and videos taken by bystanders. Many pundits, people who study law enforcement and ordinary citizens are saying that these incidents wouldn’t be so common if there were more women in law enforcement.
While policing is no longer strictly a male profession, only about 12% of officers across the country are female. Policing isn’t an easy profession for anyone, but female officers often face a culture of harassment.
The problem with fitness tests
Moreover, the fitness tests that applicants have to pass to be hired are still difficult, if not impossible, for many women to pass. In Colorado Springs, 12 plaintiffs prevailed in a lawsuit against the police department over its fitness test. Only half the women who took it passed compared to a 94% success rate for men. The department did away with that particular test. Other departments around the country are changing their tests as well.
Police departments still emphasize the importance of strength and force over negotiating and interpersonal skills. However, the latter are essential to good policing and to de-escalation rather than exacerbating situations. As one law professor who studies the subject says, “Policing as an institution was constructed and run by men, so the system in which we are still operating…still reflects that male culture.”
What does the research show?
Research has shown that female officers have fewer complaints of excessive force from citizens. They’re at the center of fewer civil lawsuits against cities over police actions. Further, when male and female officers are partners, male officers are less likely to use force.
Of course, none of this means that female officers don’t use excessive – and sometimes deadly – force when it’s not required. Some also tend to stand by while their male colleagues inflict unnecessary injuries through use of excessive force. However, the increased emphasis on interpersonal skills for law enforcement officers regardless of gender is a step in the right direction.
As more of these cases become public and are no longer hidden or forgotten, law enforcement agencies will be required to change. If you or a loved one has been the victim of excessive force or other misconduct by a law enforcement officer, it’s wise to seek legal guidance.