Diane Dimond: More female police officers, please
When you were growing up and there was a dispute between siblings, who stepped in to bring about a peaceful solution? Probably Mom, right?
And when mediation was necessary to decide the evening’s curfew, your punishment if you ignored it or when you were mature enough for driving lessons, I’m guessing it was Mom who was front and center.
Soothing raw nerves, introducing diplomatic distractions and solutions and hugging away bruised feelings are all female specialties. It’s just human nature.
So at a time when conflict resolution is so obviously needed on the mean streets of America, why don’t we have more female cops?
After all the violent and deadly events we’ve heard about recently — from Missouri and Ohio to Wisconsin and Georgia — where young men lost their lives during encounters with male police officers, you’d think police departments would be recruiting as many candidates skilled in de-escalating situations as they possibly could.
They have not.
Estimates on the number of female officers in the U.S. vary. John Wills, a former Chicago cop and FBI agent wrote the book, “Women Warriors: Stories from the Thin Blue Line.” He reports that in 1970, only 2 percent of all law enforcement officers were women. In 1991, that number rose to 9 percent. Using the latest Bureau of Justice statistics, Wills writes the latest figures indicate, “The number of women involved in policing is almost 100,000, or just over 15 percent.”
Although officer recruitment is no longer focused solely on military bases and other male-dominated venues, and recruitment billboards routinely feature female patrol officers, departments don’t seem to be actively seeking out female nurses, social workers, mediators or psychologists with skills that could reduce instances of excessive or deadly force. Wonder why that is?
Penny Harrington, the first woman to head a major police force in the U.S. (Portland, Oregon) puts the need for female officers succinctly. “Women tend to talk, to reason, to try to deescalate violence,” she told Ms. Magazine.
By contrast, Harrington said, “Men have been taught — through sports, through the military — that you use physical force to get situations under control. Those are two hugely different approaches.”
I’m thinking that state-sanctioned brawn isn’t cutting it anymore. Communities across the nation are marching in the streets protesting what they see as overt aggression and ingrained hostility from their police force. Instead of bold brawn, we now need brains and conflict resolution tactics to be introduced to defuse the oozing hostility — from both officers and suspects — seen on today’s streets.
Recent cases make my point. In Chamblee, Georgia, Anthony Hill was spotted naked and wandering erratically around his neighborhood one afternoon. When he approached (or ran toward) the responding police officer — obviously unarmed — he was shot dead. That, even though the officer carried a Taser gun and could have subdued Hill.
It’s the overkill — absolutely no pun intended — that galls most clear-thinking people.
It was the third police shooting of an unarmed — or apparently unarmed — black man within a week. The other killings occurred in Aurora, Colorado, and Madison, Wisconsin. All the cases involved male police officers. Besides possible machismo and racism, it feels like there’s an element of institutionalized law enforcement arrogance at work here, too. Which exists, of course, because it is allowed to exist.
Look, the threat against police officers who patrol our neighborhoods is clear. And there will surely be more justified police shootings. But it’s equally clear that something has to change if we ever expect police/community relations to improve. These days more and more citizens say they are afraid to call police for help, and no one wins in that culture of distrust.
Will having more strong women wearing badges — talking reconciliation instead of flexing muscle — be the kick in the culture police departments need? I say yes. Law enforcement administrators with vision need to start looking for them. Like, yesterday.