Can More Women Officers Solve America’s Policing Crisis?

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Adding more women to police ranks would help add “emotional intelligence” to U.S. policing and reduce the cost of lawsuits filed for excessive use of force, argues Maureen McGough, chief of staff at the New York University School of Law’s Policing Project.

The majority of a police officer’s daily tasks revolve around mitigating conflict and talking with people, which suggests that emotional intelligence is “probably the most important thing for police officers to have,” said McGough, a former senior policy advisor at the U.S. Department of Justice.

“That’s not to say that there aren’t men who are emotionally intelligent, but there’s an over-reliance on physical fitness and an aggressive form of policing.”

At NYU’s Policing Project, McGough is committed to ensuring that women represent 30 percent of police officers, either on the force or in training academies, by 2030.

The “30-by-30” plan revolves around the concept of representative bureaucracy, which works to reflect the needs of all groups of the workforce, especially those who are underrepresented.

In an interview with The Crime Report, McGough said women need to reach that 30 percent mark in order to have a say in what needs to change.

According to McGough, the lack of women in policing has resulted in a public safety crisis.

Even though research shows that women in policing face less complaints regarding the use of force and are better equipped to interact with diverse communities or victims of sexual assault, they only make up between “10 and 13 percent of law enforcement officers,” even less at the executive level, McGough said in a recent Cosmopolitan article.

“Nobody’s figuring out why, and nobody seems to care.”

One of the biggest issues blocking more women from joining the police force is the “hypermasculine” culture associated with modern-day policing, according to other women involved in law enforcement who contributed comments to the Cosmopolitan piece.

More times than not, police officers tend to focus on strength and physical ability rather than being “analytical, a good communicator, and nonreactive,” said Ivonne Roman, former Newark chief of police and friend of McGough.

Under the “30 by 30” plan, McGough and her team would work alongside police departments to increase the number of women represented in their force by changing the narrative about what policing is and overhauling the traditional recruitment strategy.

This involves collecting data in a way that “allows the analysis of rank, background, economic status, race, sexual orientation, gender identity, and many other factors,” which was noted in the 2019 National Institute of Justice’s report on women in policing.

Maureen McGough

Maureen McGough

Research already indicates that a more diverse police force is better equipped to solve problems within their community, McGough said.

“We don’t want to try and force departments to have to hire people who are less qualified in order to meet an arbitrary gender quota,” she said.

“We can’t get more women in the door if the place stays exactly the same. We’re attacking all of the different elements that we think and that science demonstrates contributes to the underrepresentation and the poor experiences of women in the profession.”

McGough says having more women in police is even more cost-efficient, noting that research shows that women in policing are “2.5 times cheaper” for police departments because of the money proportionately saved by avoiding civilian lawsuits.

The hardest part about recruiting more women into the police force is figuring out how to get them interested in a workforce that’s recently been under public scrutiny, as well as the problems with hypermasculinization, said McGough.

“The important thing to do is to change the narrative about what policing is. It’s pretty clear that that’s what the country is looking for.”

To learn more about McGough and her research on women in policing, listen to her episode on the Reducing Crime podcast.

Additional Reading:

 Why are America’s Women Police Chiefs Resigning?, The Crime Report, Aug. 13, 2020

 Why the Gender Gap in Policing is a Public Safety Crisis,  The Crime Report, Sept. 2, 2020

Emily Riley is a TCR Justice Reporting intern. She welcomes comments from readers.

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