With the national spotlight squarely on fatal police shootings of often-unarmed black men, activists and commentators (including yours truly) have called for more racial diversity in law enforcement agencies as one essential reform.
What has received far less attention is the need for more female police officers – and how that might also lead to fewer deadly confrontations between police and residents.
Advocates of more women in the ranks argue that they are less likely to use excessive force. Another benefit: they are more likely to respond effectively to domestic violence calls because they will treat victims with more empathy.
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The National Center for Women & Policing has been promoting research about the benefits of female officers to increase their ranks at all levels of law enforcement, but to little avail. Women make up less than 13 percent of police officers around the country, a number that has hardly budged in nearly two decades.
The same imbalance is true in Sacramento. There were 105 sworn female officers last year, 16 percent of the total, according to the department’s latest annual report. That’s down from 131 in 2010, when women made up 19 percent of sworn officers.
That peak came after more awareness led to a hiring surge. In 2003, there were only 89 female officers, 13 percent of the total. To show how much times have changed, as recently as 2002, the department’s annual report didn’t even include a demographic breakdown.
But the trend line on female officers may be about to turn around. In the three most recent academy classes, women have made up 24 percent, 27 percent and 18 percent, the department says. And women make up more than half of all cadets, reserve officers and trainees in the training pipeline.
“We are constantly recruiting females as we feel that this demographic is extremely important to our workforce,” department spokesman Bryce Heinlein said in a statement.
On Monday, the Sacramento Community Police Commission is to discuss a new policy on diversity in hiring. It includes improving recruitment efforts, considering diversity as well as seniority in layoffs and making diversity part of the new police chief’s job description and performance review. The commission needs to make crystal clear that diversity includes gender as well as race.
The National Center for Women & Policing calls for better recruiting of women and cites research that female officers rely less on physical force and more on communication, which can defuse situations and lead to less excessive force.
While a female officer faces manslaughter charges in the highly publicized, on-camera killing of an unarmed black man Sept. 16 in Tulsa, Okla., that’s extremely rare. Experts say of the 1,000 people shot to death by police in an average year, only a handful involve female officers.
There’s a long, challenging road ahead on how America deals with police shootings. It’s clear that one way police departments can improve relations with communities they are supposed to serve and protect is to look more like them. That not only means more African-American, Latino and Asian-American officers. It means more women.
By the numbers
The number of nonwhite and female sworn officers in the Sacramento Police Department:
- 2015: Nonwhite, 162 (25%); female, 105 (16%)
- 2014: Nonwhite, 152 (24%); female, 109 (18%)
- 2013: Nonwhite, 148 (24%); female, 108 (18%)
- 2012: Nonwhite, 156 (25%); female, 115 (18%)
- 2011: Nonwhite, 167 (24%); female, 127 (19%)
- 2010: Nonwhite, 172 (24%); female, 131 (19%)
Source: Sacramento Police Department annual reports