Although the media sends mixed messages about law enforcement officers, it is still considered a challenging and respectable profession. Reports of crooked cops and acts of police brutality like the beating of Rodney King caused people to question the integrity of the profession. Consequently, legislators have restructured law enforcement agencies Use of Force policies and created new standards of professionalism. While incidents of brutality and corruption continue to surface in the media, the majority of police officers maintain high moral standards. Nevertheless, we are still faced with an even greater injustice, the limited representation of women and Black men on our forces. Of course, there have been some improvements, but these groups remain in the lowest echelon of most police departments.
Surprisingly, before the 1970’s women were only allowed to take on a social worker or clerical role in law enforcement. Street work was considered too dangerous and strenuous. Even then, women made up only two percent of police forces nationwide and were forced to meet higher standards than their male counterparts. Fortunately, after much debate the amendment to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed, which prohibited employers from job discrimination regardless of race or gender. Women were finally permitted to do the same police work as their male co-workers.
These days, women make up at least 30 percent of police forces nationwide while Black men make up less than sixteen percent. Some feminist groups and police associations claim the low numbers are clearly a result of gender and race discrimination. This issue is especially evident when looking at the number of Black female officers. When looking at the numbers overall there is a clear disproportion of black female officers and supervisors when compared to white females. Research indicates being a Black female places her at an even greater disadvantage. These officers are rarely hired or promoted. Some blame the poor numbers on the lack of Black female applicants. Even though, this tends to be the norm when looking at minority officers as a whole.
Another issue that no one likes to talk about is sexual harassment. Being in a predominantly male dominated profession can be challenging for some women. It is not uncommon for women to complain about being subjected to inappropriate behavior by male officers. Of course there are some female violators but it is not very common. I’m not sure if this type of behavior is used as an act of intimidation or because the harasser lacks respect for women. Either way, it occurs more often than the public is aware of or wants to admit. Many instances are never reported.
As a Black female law enforcement officer, I’ve had a fulfilling career though I’ve conquered many barriers. In the beginning, I had to work twice as hard as male officers to advance my career. Today I’ve been a police officer for almost fifteen years and I’ve seen my profession slowly evolve in a positive way. When I began my career I worked for a predominantly Black law enforcement agency. Yet, I was surprised to learn that there were less than ten female officers and they’d never promoted one. Like any ambitious being, I set out to change the attitude of my co-workers. Little did I know the task would prove to be more difficult than I expected. Unlike my male colleagues, I had to work harder and attain more education to be taken seriously. I grew tired of comments like “What’s a pretty lady like you doing in a uniform. Or you’re too cute to be on the streets alone.” It was discourteous and disrespectful. Still, being an officer has been a rewarding and positive learning experience for me. I had to learn to channel my frustration in a productive way. For instance, I didn’t understand why I had to wear a male uniform but I wasn’t given the opportunity to do the same job. That may seem petty to some, but being tall, slender and small busted it was difficult to find a uniform that fit. I learned to improvise.
Then there was the issue of not being allowed to work alone, but male officers could. I had gone through all of the necessary training and passed my exams but I was expected to accept status quo. After a while I realized that my supervisors didn’t want change. It didn’t matter that I graduated number one in my academy, beating out all of the male cadets. I was still seen as dispensable and fragile because of my gender. However, I wasn’t going to allow someone to take away an opportunity that I’d worked so hard for. I remained optimistic.
During that time I was a single mother, but my supervisors didn’t seem to care. I had to work long hours, file my charges and complete my reports at the end of my shift just like everyone else. I didn’t expect preferential treatment either. I got into fights, chases and had guns pulled on me and worked a lot of overtime. I didn’t have a problem fighting my battles. I only had a problem with the double standards. It didn’t matter that I was a single mother when I had to do my assigned task. It was only a problem when I needed to be off to take one of my children to the doctor or visit their school.Furthermore, my gender seemed to only be a concern when I challenged their antiquated polices and procedures.
For instance, When ever I’d ask about promotions or working in a division that was considered more dangerous, I was told that women couldn’t do it, a woman had never worked in that division or the work was too dangerous. Well, I wasn’t going to stand for that too long, so I did what I do best: I challenged the system and found a way in. It took a little while but I helped to restructure our policies and got in. Once I was in the traffic division I received my most rewarding training. I enjoyed my work. I became a certified Child Abuse and Family Violence Investigator, Life Flight certified, Hazmat, DWI and Field Sobriety practitioner, Drug Recognition Expert (DRE) training and a plethora of other required training.After a few years and lots of hard work, I was promoted to Administrative Sergeant.
Although they didn’t have much of a choice, especially since no one else was qualified to do the job. The position required me to supervise all of the other sergeants and I was part of the department’s administrative team. In addition to, being the training coordinator and warrant division supervisor. I was promoted but I had more responsibility than my male counterparts. After a few more years I was promoted to Administrative Captain. Before being promoted I earned my bachelor’s degree and by then had more training than anyone in the department. As a result I was third in command at the department. Once I achieved my goals I was determined to change the face of law enforcement. I wanted to open the door for other women to be promoted in the department and I did. I’m no longer at that department.
Today I hold a masters degree, I’m working on my doctorate and I work for a different department. I also earned my master peace officer certification which is the highest certification given in the state of Texas. Nevertheless, I’m still discontented at the state of my profession, which is one of the reasons I’m writing this article. Although I achieved my goals, I cannot accept the fact that Black women are still underrepresented in my department and nationwide. I’m looking for ways to motivate Black women to at least consider going into the profession. Plus, I’m glad to see that some agencies are taking these issues seriously.
Some departments have designed hiring campaigns to encourage women to apply.Unfortunately, many departments are still working with the regulations they developed when their agency was established. Police administrators should realize that times have changed so our law enforcement agencies should too. We are not just arresting men. Therefore, attitudinal changes will have to occur to bring about social change. Police agencies will only benefit when their officers reflect the communities they serve.
Somehow we must change the public’s perception of police officers and find ways to work together.I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that although the numbers are low, women have made tremendous strides in the law enforcement profession. Some of us are chiefs and Constables in our departments. But why do we have to make a big deal when a woman is promoted to a high rank? Is it that shocking? Or is it just that ridiculous? Maybe if it occurred more often the shock factor would be eliminated. Women should be rewarded based on their own merit and not simply to fulfill statistical requirement. I’m not saying this is the norm in all agencies but it is definitely evident. Believe it or not, the subject of racial and gender discrimination are hush, hush among officers.
No one wants to talk about the two openly, so how can we expect to change anything? Some of my friends have told me about instances when they were called the “N” word, boy or gal. Surprisingly, many of them refused to file a complaint or speak up for fear of retaliation. They just get angry and complain about it. And why is it that every time these topics surface in the media people seem stunned? Everyone knows this occurs on a regular basis and little is being done to alleviate this issue. Sure, there is cultural sensitivity training, which we are all required to attend. But are we getting the message?Sometimes I’m amazed at how divided we are as law enforcement officers.
Yes, in the end we all have a common goal: that is to uphold the laws and protect citizens. Yet, we tend to flock to our own race. What I’m saying is from my experience, White officers congregate with White officers, Black officers congregate with other Blacks officers and so forth. In my opinion, there is a lack of brotherly and sisterly cohesiveness within our profession. Again, this may not be the practice at every agency.
Let me share a personal story. A few months after I was promoted to captain, I encountered a problem with a white officer from another department. I was driving to work one morning in my white unmarked car when this officer was doing speed step. He pointed his radar gun in my direction, so I assumed I was caught in his radar. Moments later he waved me over to the left side of the road. At that time, traffic was steadily moving and I was in the far right lane.
I guess I wasn’t moving fast enough because he became visibly angry, so before I could move to the left lane he ran to my car and began to yell and beating on the hood of my car. I was a little disturbed, but I managed to make it to the designated area. Before I could roll down my window he banged on it and asked why I didn’t stop. I didn’t say a word. I simply rolled down my window and smiled at the officer. By then, he could clearly see that I was an officer because I had my badge around my neck, gun on my side, emergency lights on my car and a police radio blaring.
He proceeded to ask me for my identification and I told him that I thought his behavior was very inappropriate, especially towards a fellow officer. He responded, “You’re not my fellow officer. You need to F@%# stop when I say stop you hear me?” I starred at him for a moment, taking in all of his information and didn’t say a word. I guess he got the message, because he finally told me to move on. I did. However, once I arrived at my department, which was less than a mile away. I talked to my supervisors, did a report and contacted the officer’s department. I received a call that afternoon and was told that an investigation would be necessary. Long story short, the officer was disciplined but it was an experience that I’d never forget. I didn’t have a problem receiving a ticket but he could have approached me in a pleasant manner. Sadly, that wasn’t my only run in with an officer.
In spite of a few negative events, the police profession is honorable and gratifying if your heart is in it and you are willing to stand your ground. Like any other job, there may be some hurdles to jump, but nothing too difficult for those who really desire to protect the public. So for those who may be considering a career in law enforcement, do not allow cynicism or negative media coverage to prevent you from pursuing your goals. Get licensed, do your research and get all of the training you can. Trust me it will give you more bargaining power or at least increase your pay check. Remember, if we are interested in making changes in our communities we can’t be afraid of the challenge. We must strive to be the change that we wish to see in the world. Today many agencies have improved and restructured their hiring process to encourage more and racial minorities to apply. So go for it.
Interested in becoming a law enforcement officer?
Most major metropolitan cities have their own academies within their police and sheriff departments. However, some universities and colleges offer law enforcement training too. Candidates are required to complete a set amount of hours before sitting for their state exam.
Understand that, completing a police academy and sitting for an exam doesn’t make a person a police officer. An applicant is required to apply to an agency, go through a psychological assessment, physicals, background investigations and lots of paperwork.Some departments also require some college education and physical agility requirements. Once a police department has completed an applicant’s required paper work and sent it in to the licensing agency they wait for an okay.
Then if the state licenses the applicant he/she is cleared to be hired. After the applicant is hired he/she takes an oath and is allowed to carry a badge and gun. There are several areas to begin a law enforcement career. For instance, most police departments have patrol, traffic, internal affairs, sexual assault and child abuse investigations, homicide, juvenile, gang task force, drug task force, forensics and many other interesting divisions. For more information about becoming a police officer check with the police agencies in your area for more information.
Arlether Wilson, Author of “Rewriting the Script”
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