On Dec. 19, 52 recruits graduated from the Camden County Police Academy to become law enforcement officers in Camden City, and eight were women. In the late 1960s, Elizabeth Coffal Robinson and Betty Blankenship became the first policewomen assigned to patrol in the United States. Just 20 years later, in 1987, women made up 7.6% of all officers in local police departments nationwide. By 2007, that share grew to 12%.
Unfortunately, roughly 50 years after Robinson and Blankenship broke through the glass ceiling in policing, the growth of women in the field has virtually stagnated, according to recent data released by the Bureau of Justice Statistics.
Recent media reports have shown other discouraging trends manifesting in New Jersey, finding that women have faced greater barriers to securing positions in law enforcement and policing than their male counterparts. Last month, lawmakers in Trenton heard testimony related to whether physical requirements at the police academy were unnecessarily onerous to female recruits.
These trends are disheartening because we need women in uniform. We might even need them more now than ever before. Effective policing, according to a U.S. Department of Justice report released in 2016, requires a department that in race, gender, and other characteristics, reflects and relates to the community it serves.
In Camden, our Camden County metro officers are champions of a groundbreaking, community-oriented approach to policing that would be impossible without policewomen and the diverse skillsets and unique perspectives they bring to our department. A diverse department enables us to reach individuals throughout the community who may otherwise be wary of engaging with law enforcement, while also bringing an array of viewpoints to influence departmental operations and culture.
Decades of research has made clear the empirical benefits of a police force which is diverse in gender. Research from the 1970s, when female officers were far less common than they are today, had already shown that there existed little difference between policemen and policewomen in terms of performance, arrests, or required disciplinary action.
By the ’90s, others had begun to document the inherent benefits that many women brought with them to policing. Experts in 1992 cited women’s verbal skills as having a notable calming effect capable of defusing explosive situations. They also highlighted the critical role female officers played when working with victims of rape and domestic violence.
A recent study from the University of Virginia updated those findings, adding that as the female representation of officers within an area increases, so do the reporting rates of violent crimes against women in the area. Female officers make women in the community feel safer to come forward.
Women in law enforcement are primarily motivated to seek their careers because of a desire to help people and have been found to be less physically aggressive and more nurturing than men. Some have even gone as far as to suggest that more women in uniform could lead to fewer police-involved shootings.
Of course, all women in law enforcement are not the same. Each individual officer brings their own personality, style, and background to the job. We need a department that includes all of them in order to best meet our community’s needs. That’s why we have to make a broader effort statewide to recruit and retain women interested in law enforcement careers.
At the Camden County Police Department, approximately 15% of our officers are women, better than the national average, but we still have plenty of work to do. Whatever changes Trenton decides to make or not make, one thing needs to be made clear: Female officers are wanted and needed in New Jersey, and the pathways for them to attain these careers must remain open.