The history of women in American policing dates back over a century, but in recent decades, women's stature has improved. Women in police forces were once mostly restricted to desk jobs or traffic duties. With women's liberation in the 1970's came changing roles, paving the way for female sergeants, detectives and captains. Still, only about 13 percent of the US police force are women, according to the National Center for Policing and Women, and they still face a lot of challenges (See Reference1).
A person's physical condition is important on a police force, so officers are generally tested for vision, hearing and agility. But modern policing is about more than running after bad guys and wrestling them into handcuffs. According to Houston Police Chief Elizabeth Watson, modern police procedures require a greater aptitude for intelligence, communication, compassion, and diplomacy (See Reference 5). The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) says police officers also need strong multitasking skills and they need empathetic personalities to understand the perspectives of various types of people (See Reference 3).
The Path to Getting a Badge
Usually, a person can't be a police officer unless she is at least 21. A college degree or college course work may be required by some agencies or for certain positions, but many law enforcement jobs are available with just a high school diploma or GED. Generally, applicants are required to go to a police academy and then follow up with on-the-job training.
Pros and Cons of Being an Officer
In 2010, the median annual wage for police officers was $55,010, though about 10 percent of officers earned less than $32,440, according to the BLS. While the pay may be attractive, becoming a police officer is risky (See Reference 4). The profession has one of the highest rates of on-the-job injuries and fatalities. And newer officers are often scheduled to work when others don't want to, such as nights, weekends and holidays. The jobs commonly come with some perks too, including uniform allowances, extensive benefits and the opportunity to retire younger than many other types of professionals.
Women on the Force
The small percentage of female police officers clearly indicates the profession is still dominated by men. Challenges women face include tests developed based on male abilities, the need to continually prove their abilities and reduced input in policy making. And, the glass ceiling still exists, says Adam Eisenburgh, author of A Different Shade of Blue, a book about female officers (See Reference 6). But women who want to become police officers should not be deterred by the challenges. Shirley Gray, who retired as the highest-ranking African American woman on the Dallas Police force, said women in any profession face challenges men don't have to deal with (See Reference 5). She advised women officers not to take prejudiced and off-color remarks personally.
- National Center for Women and Policing: National Center for Women and Policing
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: Pay
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: How to Become a Police Officer or Dectective
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: Police and Detectives
- Discovering Policing.org: Women in Law Enforcement
- All Criminal Justice Schools: Read Interviews with Women Police Officers
- Jupiterimages, Creatas Images/Creatas/Getty Images
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