Saturday, March 12, 2011

Recruiting Female Police Officers

A BBC article published last week reported that the number of female police officers in Scotland is at a record high. This news comes as a surprise considering that in 2004, Scotland was behind the rest of Britain, with only two women in senior chief officer ranks, and with no women above chief inspector level. Fast forward eight years to 2011. Within the country’s eight police forces, women now account for more than one in four (26.8%) of the entire police workforce, and two of the police forces currently have women at the helm.

It seems that the police forces listened to the working groups such as the Women’s Development Forum in 2004, to find out how they could improve in terms of recruitment and retention. Female officers were demanding greater flexibility and a better work/life balance, and wanted their concerns about discrimination against part -time staff (mostly women) addressed.

In Canada, the number of police officers has increased from approximately 56,000 in 2005 to over 69,000 in 2010. The percentage of female officers has also increased by 5.5% since 2000, to 19.2% of the police force in 2010 (Stats Can, 2010). Quebec and British Columbia lead the way with the highest percentage of female officers amongst the provinces, at 23% and 21% respectively (Stat Can, 2010).

The percentage of women in senior ranks continued to increase in 2010, with females representing 8.7% of senior officers (up 3.2% since 2005) and 15.2% of non-commissioned officers (up 5.5% since 2005). The percentage of female constables has remained close to 21% since 2005 (Stat Can, 2010).

Commonly identified advantages to having more female officers have been used to ‘convince’ police forces to hire more female officers. Some of the benefits include: bringing a different style of policing that uses less physical force; possessing better communication skills; facilitating better cooperation and trust with civilians; helping to change the male-dominated atmosphere and climate in law enforcement agencies; and helping to change policies and procedures that benefit both male and female officers.

Similar to discussions about increasing the number of racialized and Aboriginal persons and persons with disabilities in the workplace, a balance must be struck between effective hiring and retention, and tokenization. Simply putting more (fill in the blank) into a workplace cannot fix the culture of the organization, or the public perception of that system or institution. There must be a concerted effort on behalf of the agency to put systems in place that will ensure retention and promotion is just as important as recruitment.

In law enforcement, programs, policies and procedures that create more flexible work hours, more mentoring opportunities, stricter internal policies against gender discrimination and sexual harassment, and clear accountability mechanisms, will help to retain more women in the workforce.

Ensuring that promotional opportunities are available just as readily to female constables as they are to male constables is also important. This allows female constables, and the public at large, to see that becoming a female in a higher rank within a law enforcement agency is possible and can be achieved.

Racialized women face additional difficulties based on the intersection of sexism and racism in law enforcement – this is true for other intersectional identities such as ability, sexual orientation/identification, religion, age, etc.

Perhaps resources spent on hiring should not be increased, but rather they should be strategically spent on ensuring the culture of law enforcement agencies is not just tolerant towards female officers, but welcoming and encouraging of a higher percentage of female officers. Employees need to believe that the agency completely ‘buys-in’ to the benefits of having more (fill in the blank) officers.

However, this all begs the question of why in a time of budget cuts – specifically to social assistance, social services, school programming, etc. – are we hiring more police officers in general? Has the increase of female officers had an effect on police accountability?

Posted by Nana Yanful (Windsor Law I)

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