by Victoria T. Davis
Special to the NNPA from the Indianapolis Recorder
The law enforcement field has been an intense topic of discussion, more specifically police officer accountability and the use of excessive force. In many cases women officers’ perspectives have been silenced pertaining to violence and their contributions to the changing landscape of this country have been nonexistent.
During World War I, Emma Baker, known in Indianapolis for her laundry business, was recruited to become one of the city’s first Black police officers and one of 13 women in the Indianapolis Police Department’s all-female unit. A few years later, her all-woman police unit had become the largest in the world with 23 officers.
The National Center for Women and Policing found in 2013, there were over 900,000 law enforcement employees in the U.S. with 26 percent of them being female but only 11.6 percent of them being officers.
The question remains, why are women continuing to go into this dangerous but ever-important, male-dominated field?
Elizabeth James* who has been working for a police department in North Carolina for seven years said some women simply want to be apart of something where they feel they can make a difference in peoples’ lives.
“I knew taking this job I would never be rich, that some days I would have to be the enforcer, but beyond that, I love seeing people smile after I help them out of a bind. I enjoy knowing my actions can make someone’s day just a little bit brighter,” said James.
When James completed the police academy, she recalled there being only five other women in her class.
She mentioned since becoming an officer she has witnessed multiple, dangerous altercations but has proved to her male counterparts she belongs in the department just as much as they do. Prior to being a part of her current police squad, she experienced endless issues with men in her department.
“They would tell you that you need to quit or are incapable of being a good officer. I know because I like to keep myself up and look nice, some of my coworkers looked at me as weak or too girly,” mentioned James. “But I can throw down with the best of them, and (I’ve) saved their behinds on a couple of occasions.”
Internet Sales Consultant, Brittany Lee*, 23, was delivered blatant warnings about the expected actions of a prospective female officer at police academy orientation recently where there were two women in attendance in a crowd of 15.
“A woman officer came in and said, ‘You all have to be on top of this because you’ll automatically get looked down upon. We don’t want weak people because we don’t want to be embarrassed,’” mentioned Lee. “She said we also have an advantage as well because the department needs women and more importantly, Black females.”
Of the 13 percent of women making up the law enforcement field, only 5 percent are African-American.
Completing and passing multiple background checks and thorough investigations aren’t the only items a perspective officer must attain. Training also includes written, oral, physical strength, psychological, drug and other tests over a duration of four to six months.
After hearing the intense labor to become one of her neighborhood’s prime law enforcers, Lee admitted she was nervous but knows she wants to do it for all the right reasons.
During her senior year of high school Lee’s interests in law enforcement came naturally as she loved TV shows such as “CSI” and “First 48.” After some soul searching and completing multiple career tests, she knew the idea of becoming an officer could be a reality.
“I began to look at the violence that was going on and several ideas came to mind to help bridge the gap between the community and officers. I started getting more excited about it because with the things that are going on, police officers need a ‘good look.’”
Lee said she thinks about violence in the country often and tries to see current situations from multiple angles to discover reasoning. She said some citizens bluntly disobey the law while others are victims of unfair deadly force used by officers. While Lee hopes to change both of these actions, she knows it will take hard work but she is willing to endure stressful times for what she said is a “great cause.”
The National Institute of Justice said, “for law enforcement officers, stress could increase fatigue to the point that decision-making is impaired and officers cannot properly protect themselves or citizens.” When it comes to using excessive power, James said some officers choose to abuse it.
“This job is highly stressful, and people don’t seem to realize that. They think we are supposed to be immune to problems. So take that built up stress, add in adrenaline, then you get sent to a call and you snap. We are over worked and undervalued and with that comes the time for mistakes to happen,” said James. “I don’t condone the actions of any officer who goes beyond what is reasonable to prevent further police intervention. I also know that every time a white officer does something to a Black person it’s not racist. You will always have good cops and bad cops. And right now the bad ones are taking over the media spotlight.”
Departments all over the U.S. are now more than ever, focusing on cultural sensitivity training, which James said her department completes each year as it is mandated by the state.
James mentioned not only is completing officer training and being brought into the department a tough task for women, but remaining in the department is another hurdle.
“They seem to hire one to three females per new academy class, but they tend to not stay long after getting released. Some realize this job is not what they thought, or their training officers fail to train them correctly and/or make them feel inadequate so they wash out,” she said.
This is one of the many reasons only 9.6 percent of women are in supervising positions such as sergeants and lieutenants and just 7 percent are in top positions such as a captain or even higher according to the FBI Uniform Crime Report.
“You have to be more than just a woman in a uniform here. You have to go above and beyond what is needed to show some of these men that you are worthy to watch their back,” commented James. “Basically you have to be superwoman. I am lucky to now work with a group of men I can fully trust, and respect.”
*Names in this article have been changed for confidential purposes.