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Hendon Publishing

Recruiting Female Officers, Part 1

With a steady decline in the number of persons in the workforce coupled with the economic rebound, law enforcement agencies are starting to experience increases in officer attrition and difficulty attracting qualified individuals who fit with their organizations. The problem is compounded by fewer persons who view law enforcement as a viable career choice.

This perspective is reinforced by the media’s exaggerated negative portrayal of officers responding to issues within their communities. If departments are going to successfully attract sufficient numbers of candidates to meet their future staffing needs, they must re-examine traditional recruitment techniques and expand their potential labor pool.

This series of articles is designed to present an evidence-based argument supporting the need for hiring greater numbers of female officers. This issue provides an overview of the advantages that female officers provide law enforcement organizations. Other segments will address factors inhibiting the recruitment and retention of female officers, organizational issues essential to creating a positive environment of female officers, and the best recruiting techniques to successfully identify and attract female candidates.

This series is not a ‘politically correct’ argument for lowering legitimate and reasonable hiring standards or support an agenda that is not job-related and focused on the agency’s mission. Rather, it is an effort to articulate steps required of agencies to effectively compete with other employers to recruit and retain highly qualified talent who meet organizations’ needs. To effectively confront and resolve complex problems in the 21st

Century, organizations will be required to capitalize on the strength and innovation that can only be obtained by a diverse workforce.

Leaders can no longer hold on to arcane positions that allow them to arbitrarily ignore one-half of the nation’s population as a viable source of candidates. Yet women continue to be the most underrepresented protected class in law enforcement. While they make up 51 percent of the population, they currently hold about 11.6 percent of law enforcement positions across the nation. 

Evolving legal and professional standards require greater emphasis on problem solving, oral/written communication skills, and conflict resolution abilities. To satisfy these evolving standards, agencies have dramatically increased the requirements of new officers. Numerous studies indicate that women are uniquely qualified to fill these needs.

In addition, women are more likely to be better educated than their male counterparts. Since 1982, women have earned almost 10 million more college degrees than men. In 2013, women earned “61.1 percent of all Associate degrees, 56.7 percent of all Bachelor degrees, 59.8 percent of all Masters degrees, and 51.6 percent of all Doctor degrees.”

Studies consistently find female officers are less likely to use force to affect an arrest and more likely to use verbal communication skills to de-escalate the situation. Similarly, they are less likely to use excessive force. 

Male officers are two to three times more likely to be named in an excessive force complaint than women, 8.5 times more likely to have a complaint sustained, and court settlements are 2.5 to 5.5 times higher than those against women.

These findings are not isolated to women working in patrol positions. An evaluation of assaults against staff in a maximum-security male prison revealed that male correctional officers are 3.6 times more likely to be assaulted than female officers, yet evidence indicates they are as strict as male officers when dealing with the inmates. The researcher reported females “listen better, seldom act ‘macho,’ have a calming effect, are less confrontational, and often exercise control without using force.”

Studies from the National Institute of Ethics found that female officers are less likely to be involved in unethical behavior. Female drivers are involved in fewer accidents than male drivers and female officers are less likely to be involved in a fatality accident. Private sector organizations “with the best record of promoting women outperformed their counterparts by 41 to 116 percent.”

Increased numbers of female officers can have a number of positive benefits for building relations with the community. For example, female officers are more likely to receive higher satisfactory ratings from citizens than male officers. An examination of 60 urban communities across eight years revealed a positive relationship between the number of female officers in departments and the numbers of sexual assault as well as arrests for the assaults.

Departments nationwide will continue to experience greater difficulty attracting, hiring and retaining highly qualified individuals who fit with their agency. Female candidates possess some of the most desirable skills and abilities required of law enforcement officers in the 21st

Century. We can no longer continue to overlook the largest source of potential recruits. The next installment of this series will identify factors that adversely affect agencies’ ability to recruit and select female candidates.


Dwayne Orrick has more than 30 years law enforcement experience.  This includes chief of police in a medium-size city and the rank of major in one of the nation's largest sheriff's departments. He can be contacted at dorrick@bellsouth.

Published in Law and Order, Oct 2015

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