Has law enforcement turned the corner on gender equality or has the number of female police chiefs peaked? USA Today raises that question in a feature on the rise of women in policing. When Detroit chief Ella Bully-Cummings became an officer in 1977, police departments across the nation were hiring more women – often because they were under court orders to do so, or were being threatened with discrimination lawsuits.
Bully-Cummings is part of an unprecedented wave of women who have ascended to police chief posts. Since November, women have been appointed to lead five of the largest local police departments: Detroit, San Francisco, Milwaukee, Boston, and Fairfax County, Va., in suburban Washington.
The new chiefs are among hundreds of women who have who have helped reshape the image of the American police officer, says USA Today. Still, policing remains largely a man’s domain. Only about 200 of the 18,000 police departments have female chiefs. The percentage of female officers, which rose steadily for more than 20 years, has leveled off at about 13%. As efforts to recruit women have lagged in recent years, there are increasing concerns that the new crop of female chiefs might represent a peak, rather than a sign of things to come. Court orders that have fueled the recruitment of women by some departments are expiring, and in many departments, retiring women are being replaced by young men. Margaret Moore, director of the National Center for Women and Policing, continues to receive reports that women’s careers are derailed by disrespect from male colleagues, sexual harassment, and a lack of encouragement from male-dominated command ranks.
Joe Polisar, the police chief in Garden Grove, Calif., and president of the 19,000-member International Association of Chiefs of Police, says the challenge today is to make police work a more attractive career option for women.