Women Representation in Law Enforcement Thesis

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Women Representation in Law Enforcement

Women Working in Law Enforcement

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The United States has proven once again that it is capable of change, and the election of the first African-American as president and the fact that his Republican opponent selected a female as his vice presidential running mate suggest that glass ceilings are shattering across the country even as this study was being researched. Unfortunately, the state of affairs that exists in the nation today did not come about overnight and the disparities of the past will likewise not be overcome quickly and this especially appears to be the case when it comes to the number of American women working in law enforcement today. The results of a comprehensive national survey administered by the U.S. Department of Justice over the past 20 years of state and local law enforcement agencies with 100 or more officers, known as the "Law Enforcement Management and Administrative Statistics" (LEMAS), has clearly shown that the number of women in general and minority women in particular working in law enforcement in the United States has increased in recent years (cited in Lott, 2000). Despite these gains in representation, the research will clearly show that females remain underrepresented in some national, state and local law enforcement agencies, which is the focus of this study. This paper provides a review of the relevant peer-reviewed, scholarly and organizational literature to determine the current levels of women working in law enforcement capacities across the country, and describes some of the constraints and obstacles that are typically experienced by these women. A summary of the research and important findings are presented in the conclusion.

Review and Discussion

Issues facing women in law enforcement today.

TOPIC: Thesis on Women Representation in Law Enforcement Assignment

1) Pregnancy and family responsibilities. One of the fundamental gender-related issues that remains a salient issue for opponents of initiatives such as the Equal Rights Amendment is the fact that men and women are biologically different in ways that have historically influenced who would be responsible for childcare in the family, and although attitudes have changed significantly in recent years, humans continue to be plumbed in the same way today. Certainly, women in all professions are going to keep having babies, and they all become incapable of continuing many of their more physically demanding job responsibilities as their pregnancies progress. In the case of certain professions, though, such as the military, fire and rescue, and law enforcement agencies, these physical restrictions and the need to take time off from work for potentially extended periods of time contribute to female officers' challenges in their efforts to be viewed as "part of the team" and overcome the long-standing and pervasive all-male culture that characterizes many police departments today.

Unfortunately, these physiological differences are further exacerbated by long-held stereotypes concerning females with children who also aspire to a professional career that continue to pervade the law enforcement community. According to Sullivan (2005), "Some stereotypes -- women with preschool age children have worse attendance records than other workers because of their responsibilities, for instance -- have been the basis of formal policies clearly driven by intent, however defined" (p. 911). Because of the importance of their mandate, it is reasonable for law enforcement agencies of all types to emphasize the need for officers who are reliable and will be available for work when it is scheduled. The impact of such work-family conflicts on the ability of organizations of all types is well documented. According to Boles, Howard and Donofrio (2001), "Work-family conflict can be defined as a type of inter-role conflict wherein some responsibilities from the work and family domains are not compatible and have a negative influence on an employee's work situation" (p. 376). Because females are biologically required to be the partner who actually grows, nurtures and delivers a baby, the physical limitations and absence from work that having a family cause are therefore natural concomitants of being female. It is not surprising, then, that misperceptions, stereotypes, sexism and even jealously from male officers can adversely affect the perception of the value of having female officers on the force. This observation is congruent with Boles and his colleagues who report, "Results from previous research indicate that work-family conflict is related to a number of negative job attitudes and consequences including lower overall job satisfaction and greater propensity to leave a position" (p. 376). To date, a number of studies have examined the issues of work-family conflict and their impact on police officers. For instance, Boles and his colleagues cite a series of three articles by Burke (1994, 1993 and 1989) that generally determined work-family conflict to be an important factor in measuring attitudes about work as well as emotional and physical well-being. The findings from this series of studies showed a consistent correlation between work-family conflict and stress; furthermore, Burke also identified a potential direct inverse relationship between work-family conflict and job satisfaction (cited in Boles et al. At p. 376).

2) Sexual assault from fellow officers. Perhaps one of the most perplexing issues facing the nation's police departments is the lingering patriarchal nature of these organizations that has been referred to as a "hypermasculine culture" by some authorities. For example, in her study, "Gender, Violence Race, and Criminal Justice," Harris emphasizes that, "As of 1998, eight out of ten municipal police agencies with the largest percentage of sworn women officers are currently under, or have been under, consent decrees to hire women or minorities" (p. 777). The fact that fully 80% of the nation's police departments with the highest numbers of women only got that way by being forced to do so suggests that females may be highly resented by male officers who subscribe to the traditional male-only culture that has historically characterized these municipal police organizations. In this regard, Harris emphasizes that, "Nearly all of the largest gains for women in policing have been achieved only as a result of lawsuits initiated by women in law enforcement and women's organizations to force agencies to hire more women or minorities" (p. 777).

While resentment may be an understandable human reaction to being forced to do anything by a higher authority, the reaction of many male officers to the presence of females on "their" police force has been downright criminal in nature and hypocritical in the extreme. According to Harris, "Sexual harassment of women within police departments is reportedly rampant. As in other working-class, predominantly male work environments, police departments are often characterized by the stuff of which 'hostile environment' sexual harassment suits are made: pornography, attempts at inappropriate touching, and hostile sexual joking and teasing" (p. 777). Indeed, the existence of a group known as "Men Against Women" within the Los Angeles Police Department was confirmed following the investigation by the Los Angeles Police Commission of the Mark Fuhrman tapes. According to Spillar and Harrington (1997), "[T]his male-only rogue group's purpose [was] to wage an orchestrated campaign of ritual harassment, intimidation[,] and criminal activity against women officers with the ultimate objective of driving them from the force" (p. 3). Unfortunately, this anti-female mentality appears to transcend the workplace in some disturbing ways. According to Harris, "Sexual harassment is not the only problem in law enforcement agencies; so too is domestic violence. Indeed, law enforcement agencies have shown little or no commitment to investigating and punishing domestic violence. In fact, studies have found that as many as forty percent of male law enforcement officers commit domestic abuse themselves" (emphasis added) (p. 777).

3) Physical demands in comparison to policemen. According to Reilly and Karlstad (2004), "Career paths such as law enforcement, firefighting, and the military have strict fitness standards that must be met by prospective employees" (p. 21). Although the physical demands of law enforcement work are virtually identical for women and men, the physical capabilities of these two groups are, not surprisingly, significantly different. In this regard, Zhao and his colleagues (2001) emphasize that, "The change toward greater gender equity may be more difficult for police agencies. Accommodation of gender equity is complicated by the occasional use of force required in the line of duty. The use of force is believed to require a heavy emphasis on physical strength and an imposing stature in the selection process" (p. 244). The results of physical strength testing of men and women employed in various law enforcement capacities have consistently identified significant differences in the physical abilities of men and women (Lott, 2000). According to Lott, "These studies indicate that women's strength ranges from 44 to 68% of men's in the upper body and 55 to 82% in the lower body" (p. 276); however, this author also notes that, "The norming adopted by most police departments for physical fitness tests creates equal probabilities for passing by men and women" (Lott, p. 276). Experts maintain that between 70 and 80% of the police departments in the country employ such norming techniques to allow female candidates to achieve the test results required of the positions they aspire to, and some point to the… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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