Natalie Todak had planned to follow her father, a federal agent, into a law enforcement career. When Todak turned 21 and applied to be a police officer in the Washington, DC area, she was surprised when a male recruiter turned her background rating into a discussion about her love life.

"I had someone instruct me to think about becoming a cop and that I would never have a husband," Todak recalled, now in his thirties. "No man wants to wait for his wife when he comes back from work," she recalled. "Divorce rates are high," added the recruiter. "I just want you to know."

The conversation had a lasting effect. Todak interpreted the husband's comment as a warning that the organization "treats women like garbage, so you should be aware of it," she said. Todak was so turned off that she refused the job as a police officer and instead went to graduate school.

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, only 12% of full-time sworn officers in local police departments in 2016 were women. This gender inequality is even greater in small countries. Areas with a population of 25,000 or less indicated that 8% of their civil servants were women, compared to 16% in areas with a population of 250,000 or more.

Only 10% of superiors and 3% of local chiefs of police were women.

Cadets greet during the closing ceremony of the New York City Police Department in Madison Square Garden on December 29, 2014 in New York.

Cadets greet during the closing ceremony of the New York City Police Department in Madison Square Garden on December 29, 2014 in New York.

Kevin Mazur / Getty Images, FILE

In response to calls for police reform, some have suggested that hiring more women is a solution to police violence. Indeed, some research has shown that female officers use less violence and are more empathetic than male officers. Other studies have come to the opposite conclusion and have found no significant gender differences between the use of violence or coercion by male and female officials.

From a scientific point of view, it is difficult to study a topic. The use of violence is both subjective and rare in relative terms. The fact that there are so few police officers on duty makes this already challenging task even more difficult.

Undecided research has not stopped the media from pointing to the closing of the gender gap as a quick fix for police brutality. "Do you want to reform the police? Hire more women," CNN suggested last month. It is far from a new concept. A year after Rodney King was beaten by Los Angeles police, Time Magazine launched its own call to close the gender gap. "Are women better cops?" Time asked.

"We have so much to gain if we can achieve a gender balance. We would be crazy if we didn't," Los Angeles City Councilor Zev Yaroslavsky told the magazine at the time. Inspired by the Rodney King incident, the 1994 Los Angeles City Council set itself the goal of increasing the proportion of female police officers in the LAPD from 13% to 43%.

Today, more than 25 years later, women still make up only 18% of sworn officials in the LAPD.

The question of whether women are inherently gentler police officers than men may not be important. Experts say that demands for equal representation in police work are unsuccessful without dramatic police culture and political changes. The same culture of masculinity that fuels police violence prevents women from becoming police officers, staying with the police after the birth of children, and taking leadership positions within the force.

Cara Rabe-Hemp, a professor at Illinois State University who deals with gender and policing, can also harm female recruits to get things mixed up. "One of the challenges for women is that women are always linked to police reform," she said. "This is an unfair mandate. It creates a situation in which those who come in are perceived differently than everyday recruits," added Rabe-Hemp.

"Policing is not a superhuman job," said Gene Paoline, professor of criminal justice at the University of Central Florida, who interviews police officers on gender as part of his field research. "It's a PR job that flashes with excitement."

"You want your police department to look like your community," added Paoline.

Todak, now an associate professor of criminal justice at the University of Alabama in Birmingham, seemed to agree. "It is clear that the exact same strategies for solving all of the police problems that we see on the news every day do not work," said Todak.

"When we diversify, especially in the upper ranks, the biggest benefit is that people bring in new ideas and then test them," she said.

The fallacy of the physical fitness test

Women's law enforcement challenges begin long before they are admitted to violence.

"We have police recruitment practices that overemphasize upper body strength," said Rabe-Hemp. "It only puts women at a disadvantage," she added.

"There is no empirical research to suggest that deadlifts are associated with success in policing."

While women made up about 20% of the police academy in Newark, New Jersey, they were excluded from training at the Center for Policing Equity, with a rate between 65% and 80%, according to Ivonne Roman, a retired city police chief who is now working. that examines differences in policing.

That was not always so. Similarly, women and men failed New Jersey's physical fitness tests, with between 2% and 4% of women and 1% of men failing. A joint study by USA Today and the Asbury Park Press last year found that the failure rate for female recruits skyrocketed when the New Jersey Police Training Commission changed strength requirements in 2017. Women failed up to 13 times as often as men.

Most women failed the fitness test that was done within the first two weeks of training. Because there are no nationalized law enforcement agencies in the United States, each department can create their own fitness test.

Roman compared the fitness tests at the police academy to the military boot camp, where army recruits are assigned mentors to keep them up to date when they're not physically fit.

"It is very rare in the military for someone to be kicked out for physical fitness," she said. "It's the other way around in the police."

Captain Ivonne Roman, Newark, N.J.

Captain Ivonne Roman, Newark, N.J.

Newark Police Dept.

Roman, who helps women pass the academy, said that women, including those who pass the academy, describe how they are tested and abused at the academy. They described that they were ordered to go to the floor on push-ups, or that they were disqualified for re-adjusting their hands.

"It's more than bizarre to me," she said of the emphasis on upper body strength testing. "It's not based on science."

Roman said that before entering the academy, a general fitness test should be done to determine if you are healthy enough, including heart health, and a fitness test should be done at the end, as is the case with the military, to identify vulnerabilities to work and keep these as many recruits as possible.

"If the army can, why can't it monitor?" Roman asked.

The glass roof

Women who make it through the academy are rewarded with the same structural obstacles that their colleagues in American companies face: a family-unfriendly workplace and the glass ceiling.

"Because it was dominated by men, the culture of policing was not always women-friendly," said Kym Craven, executive director of the National Association of Women's Law Enforcement Executives.

Policing is still a shift job that poses a problem for working mothers who need childcare. Pumping milk out at work is an additional obstacle for young mothers. Police equipment such as bulletproof vests is not conducive to breastfeeding.

"It is still difficult for women to breastfeed," said Sylvia Moir, chief of police in Tempe, Arizona, who added lactation rooms in the home of her police station to make it easier for mothers to work. The rooms also serve as meditation rooms.

"We added the rooms to each of our stations to provide our female officials with a respectful, private, sterile, and peaceful place to collect and store their breast milk during their shift," she said. "They want to be put back into service, and these spaces, coupled with our supportive culture, help women officials get back to full service."

While lactation rooms are common across much of America, police agencies have been slow to create similar accommodations for female officers. Rabe-Hemp noted that women do not see police work as an inviting profession from an early age.

Kym Craven, executive director of the National Association of Women Law Enforcement Executives, is one of the few women who have reached the top level of law enforcement.

Kym Craven, executive director of the National Association of Women Law Enforcement Executives, is one of the few women who have reached the top level of law enforcement.

Courtesy of Kym Craven

"College women are already concerned about being with the police and have not yet stepped through the door," she said.

There are some pointers on how changes could be made. Additional childcare resources that local governments have offered to first responders during the coronavirus pandemic could serve as a blueprint for a more family-friendly police force, Craven said.
"The model should be replicated so that people can raise their children and still become a police officer," said Craven.

Moir, Craven, and Roman, who are among the few women who have risen to the top of the law enforcement agencies, described a system in which female officers have few role models who look similar to them, and in which some chiefs of police have younger officials who look after them look like her who keeps the top ranks male.

Then there is the circular problem that women do not have to be promoted at all.

"If you don't get them through the lower ranks, you won't have enough to filter," Roman said.

Remarkably, the gender gap in policing has not widened in the past two decades.

Between 1971 and 1980, the gap narrowed significantly, and the number of sworn female officers in the United States more than tripled. By the year 2000, the number of female officers had doubled again.

Then progress came to a standstill. Since 2000, the percentage of sworn police officers has increased to around 12%, although women make up half of the US population and 58% of the civilian workforce.

During the same 20-year period, police officers underwent intensive scrutiny by police officers after the death of the black Americans, most recently George Floyd.

Normalized harassment and masculinity cult

In 2018, nearly 100 police officers and researchers gathered in Washington, DC for a research summit on women in policing.

According to a special report by the National Institute of Justice where the event took place, "law enforcement participants spoke extensively about the obstacles they faced personally throughout their careers, such as the" boys' club ", hostile or hostile environments, explicit and subtle harassment, sexism, distorted physical fitness ratings, double standards and a lack of support and opportunities. "

Some attendees agreed that police and sexism harassment was normalized so that only the most outrageous cases were ever reported.

One official said, while not thinking that she would ever be bothered at work, "many of the things I experience would be considered bothering in another area."

A separate 2018 Department of Justice report found that "a significant number of women in different agencies and positions in our survey, interviews, and focus groups reported that they had experienced some form of gender discrimination and different treatment, including promotions and other job opportunities. "

Focus group participants "who described their experiences of discrimination and sexual harassment also told us how these experiences had a negative impact on them personally, including physical illness, isolation and fear at work," the report said in detail .

Rabe-Hemp described the Justice Department's report as "devastating."

Roman described a detective whose manager refused to thank her for investigating a series of murders at the next agency. "He gave you a lot of information because you have a big ass," said the superior in the presence of another officer.

"She was crying," Roman recalled. "He humiliated her and made her smaller in front of these people."

Male officers who are not externally hostile to women can strengthen women's minority status by subtly undermining their female employees, experts say. Male officers may particularly protect their female employees and treat them more like a friend or sister than an equal in the field.

To cope with their minority status, some female officials are using coping strategies such as excessive vulgarity to get their male employees off their backs, Paoline said.

In some cases, when a male officer says something to a woman to rattle her, the cop comes back "with something so vulgar" that I "blush," said Paoline. A woman later confessed to Paoline that she was performing an action.

"I don't even talk like that," she said to him. "I only do at work and it crushes everything."

Chef Sylvia Moir from Tempe, Arizona, sat down for an interview with Dan Harris from ABC for his podcast "10% Happier".

ABC news

Maintaining a "tough guy" facade can ward off the most obvious forms of harassment, but it can also take a toll. "There is a certain type of tire that women have to jump through that men don't have to go through," said Paoline.

"I think if you are a woman who can play the police game and act and match like the boys, you will be accepted," added Todak. "The words I usually hear are & # 39; I go with it because I don't complain."

Male officers confirmed this phenomenon to Todak. When asked men if women were respected in their agency, she often replied that "hardworking, competent, and experienced women are respected," she said. "Women who don't cause problems are respected. I understand that almost every time. They always have reservations."

Of the more than 100 female police officers that Todak interviewed, almost every single police officer stated that his biggest challenges were in their agencies.

"Most of the things they don't want to deal with are interactions with their male counterparts," she added, describing men who don't trust women as good police partners or see women as entertainment rather than professional colleagues.

"Women cried to me about their careers because they wished it was different," said Todak.

"I saw these things firsthand."

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