In this regard, Lott points out, "Between 70% and 80% of police departments explicitly use norming of physical standards in their hiring practices. However, most of the departments that use objective standards do not enforce these rules. Women who fail to meet the absolute standards during academy training are unlikely to be failed out of the program" (p. 276). This lack of consistency in how these standards are applied across the country has caused many observers to lose confidence in their predictive ability. Moreover, in some cases, courts have even disallowed tests that result in differential pass rates between men and women candidates. Citing a 1980 case involving the Philadelphia Police Department, Lott reports that, "The district court ruled that it was unlawful to discharge women who 'failed to achieve a passing score on the firearms qualifying test'" (quoted in Lott at p. 276). As a result, the New York City Police Department simply abandoned all of its physical testing requirements for its law enforcement applicants during the 1980s based on the increasing incidence of litigation by minority and female applicants (Lott). According to Lott, "Some officers hired under relaxed testing lack the strength to pull the trigger on a gun. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of police officers on the streets today who, when a suspect runs from them, have no other option than to call another cop, because they do not have the physical ability to pursue them" (p. 276). Further complicating the physical disparities involved between male and female officers is the fact that the weapons used by female officers do not represent the same deterrent as when they are used by their civilian counterparts, simply because of the nature of the respective encounters involved. For instance, Lott advises, "A gun might not be as much of an equalizer for female officers as it is for women who use a gun defensively. Officers are frequently called on to have physical contact with the criminals that they are pursuing, whereas women who use a gun defensively merely use the gun to keep a threatening person at bay" (Lott, p. 276).
4) Women police officer's positions and promotions in comparison to policemen. According to Smith (2003), "Women have been a part of policing since the mid-nineteenth century but have often served in a limited capacity with very different roles from their male counterparts. Traditionally, women have served in specialized or support positions (e.g., matron, juvenile officer, administrative positions)" (p. 148). By and large, and while there are some important exceptions, it would appear that many women police officers continue to be relegated to these types of positions. For instance, Felperin reports that, "In 1985, Penny Harrington of the Portland Oregon Police Department became the first female Chief of Police, Today, once the last bastion of male domination in the workplace, police organizational attitudes are finally beginning to change. And yet serious problems still remain" (p. 2).
These "serious problems" also directly relate to the fundamental differences that characterize the types of positions held by male and female police officers today. Beginning in the 1960s and early 1970s, women began to seek a greater role and greater representation in the law enforcement community in general and the policing community in particular; although the representation of women in law enforcement has increased since that time, this increase slowed by 2000 (Smith, 2003) and actually began to decline. In this regard, Felperin emphasizes that, "In 2004, women accounted for only 12.7% of all sworn law enforcement positions in large agencies and the numbers are declining. The percentage of sworn female officers in smaller agencies is even lower (most agencies in the U.S. have fewer than ten sworn officers.) in spite of women comprising at 46.5% of the entire labor force" (p. 3). The trends that originally contributed to an increase in the numbers of women in law enforcement were due in large part to legislative initiatives at the time that were intended to afford women in the U.S. with a constitutionally level playing field in terms of employment. According to Zhao, Herbst and Lovrich (2001), "Noteworthy changes in female representation in policing began with the passage of the Equal Employment Opportunity Act of 1972, an amendment to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Since that time, we know with relative certainty that there are substantially more female officers in policing than there were 25 years ago" (p. 243). Based on an analysis of the results of several surveys of law enforcement agencies administered during 1980 and 1990, there has been a significant increase in the number of female officers employed in municipal police agencies during this period. In this regard, Zhao and his colleagues report that, "The percentage of female officers in police departments located in large cities increased from 4.6 to 12.6% during the period 1980 to 1990. Similar rates of increase in the percentage of female officers employed were also evident in medium and smaller-sized police agencies" (p. 244). In their study, "Gender, Representative Bureaucracy, and Law Enforcement: The Case of Sexual Assault," Meier and Nicholson-Crotty (2006) performed empirical analysis of data from the 60 largest metropolitan counties in the United States for the period from 1990 through 1997 and found that Police departments began recruiting more women (the share of female police officers nationwide increased from 2.1% in 1975 to 11.0% in 2000) and often established special rape task forces that included women officers.
By the turn of the 21st century, though, the rate of increase of employment for females in law enforcement capacities had decreased significantly. In fact, the results of a study of major police departments across the country by the National Center for Women and Policing (1999) determined that women accounted for just 13.8% of all law enforcement positions nationwide; furthermore, this organization also found that the employment rate of female sworn officers has increased a scant 3.2% from 1990 when women comprised 10.6% of all law enforcement personnel. The center concluded that, "With very few exceptions, women remain under represented at every level of sworn law enforcement and are essentially absent from the decision-making ranks and positions of authority" (National Center for Women and Policing, 1999, p. 6 quoted in Zhao et al. At p. 244). Although there are notable exceptions to these findings, in general, it would appear reasonable to assert that women have not been welcomed with open arms by many law enforcement agencies across the country in recent years, but this level of acceptance is a complicated affair. In this regard, Zhao et al. observe that, "This state of affairs suggests that the rate of employment and career advancement of female officers is likely affected by a wide variety of factors that act in a dynamic fashion, competing with each other in determining the degree of representation of female officers across the ranks in police agencies" (p. 244). As noted above, while impressive gains in employment were achieved by women in law enforcement agencies across the country over the past four decades or so, they remain woefully underrepresented across the board throughout law enforcement agencies at the local, state and national levels, particularly at the executive level.
The analysis of how these statistics play out at the local and region levels, though, is complicated by the manner in which the data is reported. For example, aggregate figures for female employment in law enforcement show that approximately 2% of all police officers were female in 1972, 8.8% by 1986, and about 10% by 1996 as shown in Figure 1 below.
Figure 1. Women as percentage of all police officers in the United States: 1972-1996.
Source: Zhao et al., 2001; Felperin, 2004.
Even these modest gains, though, must be tempered by the fact that the vast majority of these additional female police officers were likely added in larger urban areas to the exclusion of their smaller municipality and rural counterparts. As Smith emphasizes, though, "These aggregate figures hide variation across agencies. For instance, in Detroit 19% of sworn personnel are female compared with 1% in Newark. Arguments parallel to increasing minority representation in policing are made in support of increased representation of women in policing" (Smith, p. 148). These observations would suggest that these percentages were likely even much lower for women employed in law enforcement agencies in smaller urban communities and rural areas.
The U.S. Department of Justice reports that federal agencies currently employ 106,000 full time personnel who are authorized to make arrests and carry firearms; of these, 16.1% are women and 33.2% are minority members (Federal law enforcement statistics, 2008). One of the largest federal law enforcement agencies is the Federal Bureau of Investigation, whose mandate and responsibilities have expanded in the post-September 11, 2001 climate. Although all employment positions are open to men and women, women continue to be assigned to support position in the FBI in far…