Women in law enforcement

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The integration of women into law enforcement positions can be considered a large social change.[according to whom?] A century ago,[when?] there were few jobs open to women in law enforcement. A small number of women worked as correctional officers, and their assignments were usually limited to peripheral tasks. Women traditionally worked in juvenile facilities, handled crimes involving female offenders, or performed clerical tasks. In these early days, women were not considered as capable as men in law enforcement. Recently, many options have opened up, creating new possible careers.

State of Israel police men and women
Female law enforcement officers in India

Overview by country[edit]


On 1 December 1915 Kate Cocks (1875–1954) was appointed the first woman police constable in South Australia and the British Empire,[1] a position that had equal powers to male officers.

Queensland Police Department's first female police officers, Ellen O'Donnell and Zara Dare (1886–1965), were inducted in March 1931 to assist in inquiries involving female suspects and prisoners.[2] They were not granted uniform, police powers of arrest, nor superannuation.

Australia's and Victoria's first female commissioner was Christine Nixon (1953–) in April 2001, to February 2009. Katarina Carroll (1963–) became the twentieth and first female commissioner of the Queensland Police Service, in 2019.


Women have played an important role in enforcement since the early 1990s in Austria. On 1 September 2017 Michaela Kardeis became the first female chief of federal Austrian police, which includes all police units in the country and a staff of 29,000 police officers.[3]

Cadets during training
RCMP Riders


RCMP Training[edit]

The RCMP Depot Division is the only location for future RCMP cadets to complete their training held in Regina, Saskatchewan. The 26 week training of constables, conducted at the RCMP Academy, does not differentiate between men and women. The troop consists of 32 men and women who are required to follow their 26-week training together as a cadre.[4] Other municipal and provincial police services have their own similar training programs without gender disparity.


  • Rose Fortune was the first Canadian female to become a successful police officer. She was also a businesswoman who had been born into slavery and was relocated at age 10 to Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia, as part of the Black Loyalist migration. In the early 19th century Rose Fortune began setting curfews at the wharves and the surrounding area, which appointed her as the first Canadian unofficial policewoman, known for her ability to keep unruly youngsters in order. She was on familiar terms with the leading citizens of the town.[5]
  • Katherine Ryan (aka Klondike Kate) was hired February 5, 1900, at the Whitehorse Detachment in the Northwest Territories was kept as a matron to deal with female offenders and also be part of an escort team when female prisoners were moved from one place to another. She was the first woman hired in the RCMP, and was a special constable.[6]

On September 16, 1974, thirty-two women are sworn in with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police as their first female officers. All thirty-two were sworn in simultaneously across Canada as a gesture to ensure the pressure of being the first female RCMP officer was not transferred to one woman but for the group to uphold as a whole. In 1994, Lenna Bradburn becomes the police chief of the service in Guelph, Ontario, becoming Canada’s first female chief of police. Christine Silverberg becomes Calgary’s first female Chief of Police in 1995. 2006 sees Beverly Busson become the first female commissioner of the RCMP on an interim basis. In 2016, female officers make up 21% of all police officers in Canada. In 2018 we see Brenda Lucki as the first female RCMP commissioner on a permanent basis.


In Germany, women were employed in the police force from 1903, when Henriette Arendt was employed as a policewoman.[7]

The Netherlands[edit]

In 1920, the Dutch police force specifically called for women to be employed in the new police office dealing with children and sex crimes within the Amsterdam police force. Initially, this office employed nurses, but in 1923, Meta Kehrer became the first woman Inspector of the Dutch police force, and in 1943, she also became the first woman to be appointed chief inspector.[8]


In 1908, the first three women, Agda Hallin, Maria Andersson and Erica Ström, were employed in the Swedish Police Authority in Stockholm upon the request of the Swedish National Council of Women, who referred to the example of Germany.[9] Their trial period was deemed successful and from 1910 onward, policewomen were employed in other Swedish cities. However, they did not have the same rights as their male colleagues: their title were Polissyster ('Police Sister'), and their tasks concerned women and children, such as taking care of children brought under custody, performing body searches on women, and other similar tasks which were considered unsuitable for male police officers.[9]

A Swedish policewoman with her male counterpart

The introduction of Competence Law in 1923, which formally guaranteed women all positions in society, was not applicable in the police force because of the two exceptions included in the law which excluded women from the office of priest in the state church - as well as from the military, which was interpeted to include all public professions in which women could use the monopoly on violence.

In 1930, the Polissyster were given extended rights and were allowed to be present at houses searches in women's homes, conduct interrogations of females related to sexual crimes, and do patrol reconnaissance.[9] In 1944, the first formal police course for women opened; in 1954, the title "police sister" was dropped and police officers could be both men and women. From 1957, women received equal police education to that of their male colleagues.[9]

United Kingdom[edit]

In March 2016, 28.6% of police officers in England and Wales were women.[10] This was an increase from 23.3% in 2007.[10] Notable women in the police forces include Cressida Dick, the current Commissioner (chief) of the Metropolitan Police Service.

World War I provided an impetus for the first appointment of female officers. The first woman to be appointed a police officer with full powers of arrest was Edith Smith, who was sworn in to Grantham Borough Police in 1915. A small number were appointed in the ensuing years. Policewomen would originally be in separate teams or divisions to the men, such as the A4 division in the Metropolitan Police. Their duties were different, with the early policewomen being limited to dealing with women and children. This separation ended in the 1970s.

Until 1998, women in the police force had their rank prefixed with a letter W (e.g. "WPC" for Constable).

United States[edit]

Capt Edyth Totten and women police in 1918 in New York
Female customs officers in the US and Canada
Mounted policewoman in Boston in 1980

The first policewomen in the United States included Marie Owens, who joined the Chicago Police department in 1891; Lola Baldwin, who was sworn in by the city of Portland in 1908; Fanny Bixby, also sworn into office in 1908 by the city of Long Beach, California; and Alice Stebbins Wells, who was initiated into the Los Angeles Police Department in 1910.[11] In 1943, Frances Glessner Lee was appointed captain in the New Hampshire State Police, becoming the first woman police captain in the United States.[12]

Since then, women have made progress in the world of law enforcement. The percentage of women rose from 7.6% in 1987, to 12% in 2007 across the United States.[13]


Police women in Indonesia.
Delegates of the 3rd Annual Women in Policing Conference in Tbilisi, Georgia. March 4, 2014.
Police women in Chennai, India in 2010

Despite women being in law enforcement for over one hundred years, they are still faced with discrimination and harassment. Policewomen often face discrimination from their fellow officers and many women encounter the "glass ceiling", meaning they are not able to move up in rank and can only advance as far as the imposed ceiling will allow.[14] Women are taught to overlook and minimize the discrimination they face.[15]

Discrimination and problems towards women in law enforcement are not limited to the station house. Many policewomen who are married to other officers face a higher risk of domestic violence. A 2007 study stated 27,000-36,000 female police officers may be a victim of domestic violence. Domestic violence increases to nearly 40%, from a normal societal level of 30%, in households of officers.[15]

While women are not as likely to be physically assaulted while on the job, they do face more sexual harassment, most of which comes from fellow officers. In 2009 77% of policewomen from thirty-five different counties have reported sexual harassment for their colleagues.[16] Women are asked to “go behind the station house” or are told other inappropriate things while on the job. Not only that, but there is often physical sexual harassment that takes place in the station house. So it is not only verbal, but also physical sexual harassment that policewomen face on a daily basis.[17]

Policewomen also experience greater mobility, frequently being moved from one assignment to another. As of 1973, 45% of policewomen and 71% of policemen remained in their regular uniforms, 31% of policewomen and 12% of policemen were given inside assignments, and 12% of policewomen and 4% of policemen had other street assignments.[17] Policewomen are less likely to be promoted within the department (going from officer to sergeant, sergeant to lieutenant, etc.) and are also more likely to be given different assignments and are less likely to keep the same beat (patrol position).

Gender inequality plays a major role in the law enforcement field. Women in law enforcement are often resented by their male counterparts and many face harassment (Crooke). Many do not try to strive for higher positions because they may fear abuse by male coworkers, while few women receive the guidance they need to overcome these obstacles. Many women may feel they need to prove themselves to be accepted.

One preconception of female officers is they are more capable in communicating with citizens because they come off as more disarming and can talk their way through difficult situations. A study indicated that due to female officers' perseverance and unique abilities, they are becoming a fundamental part of contemporary policing.[18] Women are found to response more effectively to incidents of violence against women, which make up approximately half of the calls to police.[19] Research also indicates that women are less likely to use excessive force or pull their weapon.[20]


Multiple studies have shown that black women in particular suffer from a matrix of domination and discrimination as they negotiate the politics of institutional racism, affirmative action, and tokenism.[21] As the section above notes, there is no single “female experience” of the policing profession. Collins (1990) and Martin (1994) argue that race gives black female police officers a distinct feminist consciousness of their experiences. These experiences are colored by stereotypes attributed to black women as “hot mamas,” “welfare queens,” and “mammies.”These caricatures are contrasted by perceptions of white women as “pure,” “submissive,” and “domestic.”[22] While both sets of stereotypes are problematic, those attributed to black women lead to more suspicion and hostility in the workplace. Black women report receiving less protection and respect from their male colleagues. For many, black female officers lack the “pedestal” of femininity enjoyed by white women in the profession.[23] In a study done by the College of Police and Security Studies, some 29% of white female officers acknowledged that black women in law enforcement have a harder time than white women.[24] Discrimination among female police officers also seems to be prevalent even though black police officers, both male and female, make up only 12% of all local departments.[25] There is also the issue of women being excluded from special units, with at least 29% of the white women and 42% of the black women mentioning this phenomenon.[24]

Susan E. Martin (1994) conducted a study in Chicago interviewing both male and female command staff and officers on their perceptions of discrimination in the workplace. The results of this study showed that in general, women experienced more discrimination than men. Experiences differed within races as well, with black women reporting higher rates of discrimination than black men.[23]


Female police supporting LGBT pride parade in California

The sexual orientation of a police officer can also influence the experiences of that officer. Women with non-heterosexual orientations deal with an additional set of stereotypes, exclusion, and harassment. Galvin-White and O'Neil (2015) examined how lesbian police officers negotiate their identities and relationships in the workplace. As they note, lesbian police officers must negotiate an identity that is "invisible" in that it is not necessarily detected by sight. Therefore, it is largely up to the individual to decide whether or not they come out to her colleagues. Many decide not to come out due to the stigmas surrounding LGBT identities, which may manifest themselves through discriminatory hiring processes and promotions. Galvin-White and O'Neil demonstrate that the decision to come out varies by individual and across the profession. The most salient factor influencing an individual's decision to come out is the extent of homophobia in the work environment.[26]

Just as women are discriminated against in the police force for not fulfilling the traditional male traits of a police officer, so are members of the LGBT community for challenging traditional gender norms. While there have been recent efforts to recruit gay and lesbian police officers to boost diversity in the profession, the stigmas and challenges facing these officers remain. Research shows that lesbian officers who have come out are often excluded by both their male and female colleagues for not conforming to traditional femininity. Many of the studies Galvin-White and O'Neil cite report that lesbian police officers are often not able to trust their colleagues for backup or protection.[26]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Kate Cocks, MBE | SA History Hub". sahistoryhub.com.au. Retrieved 2019-05-18.
  2. ^ "Woman Police Appointed". The Queenslander. Queensland, Australia. 5 March 1931. p. 45. Retrieved 20 January 2018 – via National Library of Australia.
  3. ^ "ZiB2 Interview with Lou Lorenz-Dittlbacher (in German)". ORF.AT. Retrieved 1 September 2017.
  4. ^ Royal Canadian Mounted Police (2017-01-13). "Cadet Training". Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Retrieved 27 February 2018.
  5. ^ Canadian encyclopedia. "Rose Fortune". The Canadian Encyclopedia. The Canadian Encyclopedia. Retrieved 14 February 2018.
  6. ^ Royal Canadian Mounted Police (2014-12-17). "Women in the RCMP". Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Government of Canada. Retrieved 16 February 2018.
  7. ^ History, European Network of Policewomen, in German, retrieved 22 January 2015
  8. ^ Gemma Blok, Kehrer, Meta, in: Digitaal Vrouwenlexicon van Nederland. URL: http://resources.huygens.knaw.nl/vrouwenlexicon/lemmata/data/Kehrer,_Meta [19/10/2017]
  9. ^ a b c d Läkartidningen nr 47 2008 volym 105
  10. ^ a b "Police workforce, England and Wales, 31 March 2016" (PDF). Gov.uk. 21 July 2016. Retrieved 18 July 2017.
  11. ^ Eisenberg, Adam (September 9, 2010). "LAPD hired nation's first policewoman". Los Angeles Daily News. Retrieved 19 July 2014.
  12. ^ "Visible Proofs: Forensic Views of the Body: Galleries: Biographies: Frances Glessner Lee (1878–1962)". www.nlm.nih.gov. Retrieved 2018-02-04.
  13. ^ "Women in Law Enforcement". Discover Policing. March 11, 2002. Retrieved 4 October 2013.
  14. ^ "Police Chief Magazine - View Article". policechiefmagazine.org.
  15. ^ a b "Female officers surviving police perpetrated domestic violence - Abuse of power - Diane Wetendorf Inc". abuseofpower.info.
  16. ^ "Sexual Harassment Among Male and Female Police Officers". Providentia.
  17. ^ a b Breaking and Entering Policewomen on Patrol. Martin. University of California Press. London. 1980.
  18. ^ Lanier, Mark M. (1996). "An Evolutionary Typology of Women Police Officers". Women & Criminal Justice. 8 (2): 35–57. doi:10.1300/J012v08n02_03.
  19. ^ "Hiring & Retaining More Women" (PDF).
  20. ^ "Criminal Justice Careers for Women- Why We Need More". 2017-01-06.
  21. ^ Greene, Helen Taylor (2000). "Black Females in Law Enforcement: A Foundation for Future Research". Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice.
  22. ^ Collins, Patricia (1990). Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment. New York: Routledge.
  23. ^ a b Martin, Susan E. (1998). ""Outsider within" the Station House: The Impact of Race and Gender on Black Women Police". Social Problems. 41 (3): 383–400. doi:10.1525/sp.1994.41.3.03x0445c.
  24. ^ a b Price, Barbara Raffel. (1996). "Female Police Officers In The United States". Retrieved October 30, 2016.
  25. ^ Kesling, Ben (May 14, 2015). "Percentage of African-Americans in U.S. Police Departments Remains Flat Since 2007". Retrieved October 30, 2016.
  26. ^ a b Galvin-White, Christine M.; O'Neil, Eryn Nicole (2015). "Lesbian Police Officers' Interpersonal Working Relationships and Sexuality Disclosure: A Qualitative Study." Feminist Criminology.