These Extraordinary Women, Part 3

Extraordinary Female Police Officers, Part 3
Extraordinary Female Police Officers, Part 3

In this last post of the three-part series about women in policing, I want to explore some of the negative outcomes that can arise as a result of the non-standard distribution of women along the normal curve of job performance in policing.  As you may recall, in my last post I wrote about a hypothesis that seems to be borne out, at least anecdotally, that a higher proportion of women than men in policing are distributed within the above average and high-performing ranges of the normal curve.  The major causal factor for this anomaly is that discriminatory structural barriers make it harder for ordinary women to thrive in police culture.  Those women who do thrive, do so because they have personal characteristics and competencies that make them extraordinary.

You may be asking yourself, "so what, how does this affect me as a police officer trying to improve my education?"  Well, leaders in policing at all levels of the organization -formal and informal-  should be focused on understanding both the make-up of the communities they police, as well as the culture of the organizations that are charged with the responsibility to carry out those duties. Without this understanding, some people will turn to simplistic answers, which often lead to destructive attitudes.  These attitudes, which I have heard personally from police officers, manifest themselves in statements like:

·         "The white, English-speaking man just can't get a break these days."

·         "What did she do to get to that position?"

·         "Feminism has gone too far."

·         "Why is there no ... Men in Law Enforcement organization?"

·         "Sexism is a myth."

·         "What about men's/English/white rights?"

These attitudes and beliefs exist in our society and not just in policing; they are everywhere.  But they certainly are in policing, and they do have an impact on the overall cultural of policing.  When men feel threatened or misunderstand why some women get promoted, destructive attitudes can eat away at the esprit-de-corps of the organization.  It is important for police leaders to recognize this skewed normal curve and to talk about it openly.  Failure to address perceptions of favoritism on any side leads to mistrust and fear; and a healthy police organization addresses the elephants in the room for the betterment of all.

Ultimately, negative attitudes toward female police officers impact how police services are delivered to the communities officers are sworn to serve. Officers make some decisions about investigative steps based on what they believe; and if that belief is a misinformed one about intimate partner violence, for example, and poor decision-making follows, the result can be catastrophic.

Learning more about our society is part of the solution, we need to shine a light into the dark corners where destructive beliefs thrive.  Police officers must have a fundamental understanding of who they are and who they are policing, and that understanding will not come from a standard policing academy training program, which by its very nature must focus primarily on technical and functional competencies.  Universities and police organizations must come together to ensure that police officers have the best overall education possible.  The continued advancement of professional policing in Canada depends on it.