Historically, most research on gender and social influence have focused on gender differences and how men and women are influenced by others. The power dynamic within a society is skewed in favor of masculinity over femininity. Our social history in America can be considered patriarchal in its integrity, making it harder for women to break away from working at home, into the public sphere of work. Since we’re born into patriarchy, and since participating in social life is what makes us who we are, the question we have to ask ourselves isn’t whether sexism is part of who we are, but how broadly and deeply it is ingrained in us, how it appears in our experience and behavior, and what we can do about it (Johnson, n.d.).
Women began to enter the police force during the 19th century in the United States. The first known positions for women in the Justice system involved their work with women and children, giving them limited responsibilities. Over the next few decades, these jobs made way for female police officers that offered the same guidance to women within a wider context of society (Women you should know 2018, August 27). As more women now perform law enforcement duties, they often encounter difficulties in adjusting to a male-dominated police culture, such as their gender affecting how they are evaluated in their performance and sexual harassment that occurs rather frequently. Women in law enforcement say gender discrimination is standard, with 40 percent of female criminal investigators indicating that theyve been the victim of discrimination or gendered harassment (Discrimination Rampant for Women in Law Enforcement Jobs. n.d).
Law enforcement has traditionally been a mans job, and while women have proven that they are capable of doing the same job, many male officers still hold highly negative views of female officers. They view women as physically incapable, less likely to be aggressive, too emotional, mentally weak, na?ve, and incapable of gaining the respect of citizens. Societies vary in the extent of the inequality in the social status of their women and men members, but where there is inequality, the status “woman” (and its attendant behavior and role allocations) is usually held in lesser esteem than the status “man” (Lorber & Farrell, n.d.).
Prior to applying for a job, you may put yourself through the police academy. This requires several months of rigorous training, as you prepare to enter the streets and protect citizens. You are required to undergo strenuous physical and mental tests until you are deemed fit for duty. While at the police academy, women often feel they need to prove themselves, unlike their male counterparts who automatically gained acceptance. Women who were considered inferior were only able to change this perception by showing men their ability to complete the tasks. It wasnt until competency was proven that the inequality faded away. In fact, the San Jose Police Department has reached a major milestone, with more women than ever joining the force as part of its recent class of academy graduates. Of the 47 graduates, nine are female, which makes it the highest number of women to ever be sworn-in at the same time. The class itself is also the largest over the past decade. The department has had staffing challenges, and took only qualified applicants, regardless of male or female (Nguyen, April 2018).
After the completion of the academy, new officers may apply for employment with the city, county, state, or federal government. Many agencies would like to hire more women, but some say they cannot find any women who are interested in becoming law enforcement officers. Many women who are the primary wage earners in their families are concentrated in low-paying, dead-end jobs. These women are an untapped pool of potential applicants. Law enforcement agencies at all levels of government recognize that women officers provide balance and strength within the force. Some women may lack the physical strength of men, but their courage, creativity, and verbal judo skills make them invaluable officers. Women are less likely to draw their guns and more likely to excel at community outreach.
As part of the process for applying, you must complete a physical agility test, and some have been considered gender-biased. Some departments have required a lift and drag of a 165-pound lifelike dummy for 32 feet, push-ups and sit-ups, 500 yard run, and the scaling of a 6-foot solid wall (Glendale Police, Physical Agility Test). The wall requires great upper body strength which may keep many women from passing, no matter how strong they may be. Certain departments are reviewing their physical entrance exams, realizing that the 6-foot solid walls are discriminatory and in need of review.
If you pass your first two phases of the application process, you will then be invited to a panel interview with members of the agency. Depending on your resume and how well you interviewed, you may be offered a conditional offer of employment. You must then fill out a packet, called a personal history statement. This is a detailed 25-page detailed document through POST (Peace Officers Standards and Training), to determine your suitability for the position of a California Peace Officer (State of California Commission, “Commission on POST > Home,” n.d.). The background investigation can be used as a tool to screen applicants for gender bias against women as law enforcement officers. It can easily be used as a tool to screen out applicants who display negative attitudes towards women as law enforcement officers or towards women who are victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and other crimes against women (National Center for Women & Policing n.d.). Specific questions about these issues may be asked of the applicants and the people that they have listed as being associated with. If the agency has passed you in the background phase, you will then proceed to a polygraph and medical test.
When you are finished with the process, the department will formally offer you employment. As a new officer begins their journey into law enforcement as a rookie, they will transition from an academic setting to field training, where they gain hands-on experience forming the foundation of their career. Field Training Officers are responsible for training newly hired police officers. The goal of the Field Training Program is to produce competent, skilled, and dedicated officers who are capable of working as a solo officer in an assigned area of the city. They may have several training officers, and each phase requires increasing responsibility and expectations of them. The officer is responsible for patrolling city neighborhoods, local businesses, responding to calls for service, investigating crime and community policing.
During an interview with a Sergeant in charge of a Field Training program for the Yolo County Sheriff’s Office, I obtained some insight on standards and expectations. The Field Training Officer evaluates the rookie officer on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis. These evaluations are formally documented and forwarded to the Field Training Supervisor for review. The comments from the evaluation are used to show the officers strength and weaknesses throughout each phase of training. Each department has a set of standardized expectations of how a solo Deputy Sheriff should be able to operate. They include; Uniform appearance, Grooming, care of equipment, attitude, job knowledge, policies and procedures, knowledge and ability to recognize various Penal Codes, Vehicle Codes, Health and Safety codes, Officer Safety General, Officer Safety high risk situations, computer orientation, accuracy of forms, report writing, driving skills low stress and high stress, verbal skills, being proactive, decision making, use of time, use of force, evidence handling, and so on. Some of the things I noticed that weren’t on the list were; Height, weight, muscle mass, attractiveness, sexual orientation, relationship status, and gender. Those areas are not considered because they do not typically reflect on one’s ability to do the job. In our society sexism has established deep roots throughout career fields, especially ones predominately male with an alpha mentality.
Shifts in most departments begin with a briefing, which is a way for officers to pass on information to each other on important events that took place on their watch. You must then inspect your patrol car, making sure everything is operating properly and all necessary equipment, such as flares, first aid kits, and fire extinguishers, is in place. Once you are done, you pick up your mic and advise your dispatcher that you are in service and ready for calls. Many people have perceptions of what happens when you respond to a call, the events that occur, and the outcome.
Imagine you and your training officer are being dispatched to your first call. The training officer knows it might escalate to a physical confrontation based on prior incidents at the residence. Out of the last ten calls for service at the house, ten had resulted in the husband physically resisting and attacking Officers. The husband standing at 6’7, 260 pounds made for a struggle for any Officer to deal with. The training officer felt confident in the rookie and would allow this call to unfold without intervention. This would be the only way to see how the rookie would establish command of the call and react to the pending violent confrontation. Just like with every rookie before this one, they all got treated the same. Held to the same standard, the same impartial evaluation, it was up to the rookie to show their ability to safely perform their duties. Gender, race, size, didnt matter because they were irrelevant factors to the training officer.
As the call unfolded, the training officer was anticipating exactly what they thought would happen, as if it had been rehearsed. The husband was compliant up to the point he was informed he was being placed under arrest for striking his wife. The male then took a fighting stance and yelled at the rookie, stating he would never let someone like them place their hands on him. The rookie took their time explaining the potential outcomes to the husband and inquired how to gain their compliance, this allowed them time to advise over the radio that the subject was resisting. After all the verbal tactics and reason were tried and failed, the rookie did not hesitate to engage with the male using force if necessary, even though there was a significant difference in physical appearance between the two. The rookie used the husband’s physical resistance as an advantage, by performing an academy taught leg rake which toppled the large man to the ground. Out of instinct, the field training officer jumped down beside the rookie, and they both took control of the husband’s arms to secure him in handcuffs.
At the end of the shift, several partners were making their comments to the training officer in the locker room, with the newer officers impressed that the rookie took on such a threat with the veteran officer standing by. The training officer didnt engage with the group of peers, because he did not like to discuss any rookie’s performance behind their back, regardless if it was good or bad. Other officers witnessed how gender did not play a factor in the outcome of the call and took note. Officers over the next couple of years had started to see every rookie as an officer, not a male or female officer. There were still a few officers that worked there who had started in a different generation, a generation that had the sexist mindset in regards to women in law enforcement. The training officer smiled to himself at the thought of his agency finally catching up to how things should be. An even playing field in which one’s hard work and dedication were all that mattered, male or female only came up when being assigned a locker room.
His assigned rookie was coming into the career at a transition of the old culture to the new culture. Over the past few weeks, he had trained and worked with her, adhering to the Department and State approved expectations and evaluation critique tools. He had a gut feeling about her, which he kept to himself because he didnt want to share his personal opinions. She had proven to be an excellent Officer with limitless potential. She would have an amazing career as long as she kept performing as she has been. Finally, the law enforcement field was where it needed to be, and there would be plenty more women officers to help lead the change into the future.