Women make up 12% of sworn officers and 3% of police leadership in the United States.
The under-representation of women in policing undermines public safety.
Ivonne Roman served for 25 years in the Newark Police Department. She rose from officer to commander to chief. She did it all, often, as the only woman in the room.
“There was this body of research literature that showed all of these benefits to increasing the number of women in policing. And it was being ignored by the law enforcement community because it didn't fit their mold of what an officer is,” Roman said.
Research shows that female officers use less force than males and are nearly three times less likely to have fired their service weapon. Research also found that a “masculine police culture” leads to “negative stereotypes regarding women officers.”
The death of George Floyd and the reckoning that followed put a bright light on how law enforcement enforces the law. Many have since demanded a less aggressive, more equitable approach. Meanwhile, many departments have seen fewer people applying for jobs.
Jamal Simington is the chief of police in Bloomington, Illinois. His force is one of more than 150 that have taken the 30 by 30 pledge, committing that women will make up 30% of his recruiting class by the year 2030. The 30 by 30 initiative is a coalition of police leaders, researchers, and professional organizations who have joined together to advance the representation and experiences of women in policing agencies across the United States.
“You know, the statistics tell you that women do very well in law enforcement. They receive less complaints,” Simington said. “The greater good we are at reflecting the demographics of the community, the better off we are.”
“I would say the challenges that I’ve noticed aren't necessarily within the department more so to society because there's a lot of people who still believe that there is not a place for women in law enforcement,” said Bloomington officer Kerri Johnson.
That belief is so ingrained that even 30% looks like a victory because it’s still twice as high as representation today.
Roman started the 30 by 30 initiative. She’s not convinced all who pledge will deliver.
“Chiefs were desperate, and now, you know, everyone wanted to show how progressive they were,” Roman said. “They're there televising the signing of the pledge. Whenever they have an all-female squad going out, do a photograph it and put it on. It makes news, right? I mean, it's really great for what we were fighting for. But, you know, the research has been out there for 50 years. It's just the timing. And, you know, the timing is right for making this happen.”
If it all works out, departments will have greater numbers. Society might wind up with a less aggressive, more effective brand of policing.