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Sexism in the Police Force, Essay Example

Pages: 6

Words: 1635

Essay

Gender Discrimination in Police Departments

Although between the years of 1987 and 2003, the number of full-time sworn-in police officers increased, the composition of the police force is largely an all-white, male institution.  The proportion of females in the police force was 7.6% to 11.43 percent; the rate of African-Americans on the force was 8% to 11.7%; the rate of Hispanics was less than 5% to 9.1%; and the rate of all racial and ethnic minorities was 14.6% to 23.6%.

Female officers are still largely underrepresented within police departments.  There is pervasive discrimination in recruitment, assignment, and potential for promotion: females only represent 7.5% of top command positions and 9.6% of supervisory positions.  Police culture consists of strong solidarity among officers, notably much male bonding that creates a subculture of macho that is obviously off-limits to female officers.

Gender discrimination within police forces throughout the world occurs perhaps less frequently than it did a few decades ago, but nevertheless, it persists and results in many lawsuits against police departments.  The most common manifestations of such sexism are an inability to be promoted on the job, false allegations of sexual contact with coworkers, sexual harassment, prevalence of sexist language and behavior, lack of acceptance of females as colleagues, and a sense of being undermined as well as undervalued by their male counterparts.  Indeed, gender discrimination on the police force has even extended to retired officers (Police Sexism Extended to Retired Officers).  Another factor in the slow integration of women into the police forces has involved the concept that women could not perform the duties of a police officer adequately because of a lack of the physical strength possessed by men.  In order to pass the physical requirements of becoming a police officer, men underwent tests of physical strength which adapted standards that prevented females from gaining entrance into the field of law enforcement.  These roadblocks were essentially discontinued by the 1970s.  Nevertheless, there was an extremely slow process of integrating women into law enforcement which can be explained at least in part by the reluctance of the people in charge to adjust to structural changes in the manners in which law enforcement represents society as a whole.

The increase in female participation in law enforcement has occurred since the field has become modernized and more focused on community and human-service-oriented.  This change in perspective is extremely compatible with the style of female law enforcement which puts an emphasis on conflict resolution.  There has been an acknowledgment that females bring certain qualities to the job that male officers may not possess or may have in short supply.

Frequently, the glass ceiling in the police force is evident when females are passed over for promotions time and time again, despite having stellar reviews in their personnel files and citations for bravery in performing their duties.  In 2009, a female officer sued the New York Police Department after claiming that her male supervisor had sabotaged her chances for advancement by falsifying charges that she had misused an E-ZPass and in addition, had had an affair with her boss.  The officer claimed that she was being retaliated against because she had made complaints of sexism in the department, and as a result, was passed over for a promotion to become a sergeant (Gendar).

The officer involved was no stranger to taking action against the NYPD, as she had already won a $16,000 award five years earlier when the Latino Officers Association filed suit against the Department.  Unlike many females, she was not intimidated into keeping silent regarding the unfairness of her situation and was willing to take on the NYPD despite the inevitable hostility and outright verbal harassment that she would encounter from other officers.

This case embodies many of the problems experienced by female officers: she was portrayed as promiscuous and having had affairs with several other officers and found herself up against a “good ol’ boys” network of male colleagues who backed each other up with these accusations.  The male officers had worked together in various departments, and formed an impenetrable group who ganged up to disparage the female officer involved.  After a 2 ½ year investigation, the case was closed with no files charged against the female officer when it became obvious that these were trumped-up charges and constituted a vendetta against her by some of the men with whom she had worked.(New York police department sued for gender discrimination, 2009)

Another troubling aspect of the gender discrimination within police forces involves the use of and tolerance of offensive, sexist language and behavior by the male officers while in the presence of, and even when partnering with, female officers.  Often, this includes telling dirty jokes, sharing pornographic material, and making sexualized comments about women that call the police for assistance or have been crime victims, or even about the female officers themselves.  In the police stations, a largely male environment, there are often calendars with topless or naked women displayed openly where staff can see them and where police officers Appear unconcerned with causing discomfort or embarrassment to their female colleagues or in fact, often appear to be deliberately attempting to make them uncomfortable.

Because of the inherent sexism occurring in many police departments, as stated, there are many lawsuits filed by female officers regarding discriminatory practices taking various forms.  For example, an article in The Harvard Crimson published in the 1990s described a case in which the only female sergeant in the University Police Department received a large wage increase as a result of a settlement of a sexism complaint she filed with state and city agencies.  The officer felt that she was being discriminated against because of her gender, for years was denied a promotion, as well as promised wage increases, and she felt that she was treated differently because of her status as a female.  The officer charged that the Police Chief referred to her in derogatory terms that are reserved for females, made jokes about her, and generally treated her with contempt and disrespect.  The context in which this case occurred was one in which the leadership of the police force was entirely made up of males, another sad example of the culture of the “good old boys club” that pervades police departments until they are challenged legally, unfortunately.

According to Heidensohn, however, there is reason to be optimistic about the role of females within the police department in the United States.  Women’s role in United States policing was compared with that of female officers in Britain, and the study found that there was a great deal of optimism pertaining to the situation with female officers in this country.  Even though in New York City police departments where the numbers of female recruitment were relatively low, as well as the number of females in positions of superiority, there was a consensus among senior staff that there was a turning point reached in terms of female recruitment (Heidensohn.) The numbers of female enrollees are rising and it was strongly felt that this trend would continue.

This point of view was shared by officers even in police departments where they had experienced the most trouble in penetrating the network of male officers.  In particular, one female officer who had withstood numerous forms of harassment and hostility while working with the police force expressed the sentiment that things were getting much better as time had gone on, and that it would continue to do so.

Disappointingly, although not surprising, it has been found that sexism within the police force even extends to officers that have retired.  In Great Britain, retired female detectives were banned from participating in an association for metropolitan police officers (Police sexism extended to retired officers).  The association had been formed in 1950, at which time only men were included, but the recent vote was to continue to ban female officers from participation.  One explanation given was that the members were more or less senior citizens who had only worked with men during their professional careers and so they were not used to having females around during either their professional time or their relaxation time; in addition, to continue the sexist theme, it was expressed that besides, it was nice to have a “boys day out” and to leave the wives at home.  The stated goal of the association is “to maintain the comradeship” enjoyed in the police department, another restatement of the old boys club theme.

With all the obstacles presented in doing police work, what are the motivations of women to continue to pursue careers in law enforcement?The major conclusions regarding this topic are: women are motivated to become police officers because of the financial security involved, and occurs often as a result of family or friends’ encouragement; exposure to police work prior to becoming an officer played a significant role in causing women to enter police work; difficulties in prior job duties resulted in decisions to apply to the police academy rather than work regular hours at a job which involved a day shift schedule; a great deal of satisfaction derived from their police assignments; the opportunity for advancement, which although it has certainly not been an upward climb for women so far, exists as a possibility; and a strong belief that the obstacles to promotion, full acceptance by their male peers, and a non-sexist environment will prevail in their professional futures.

References

Gendar, Simone Weichselbaum & Alison. “Koch and NYPD slug it out: she sues for sex bias; Finest Rips Her Record.” 20 February 2009. The New York Daily News.com. 9 November 2010 <http://www.nydailynews.com/ny_local/2009/02/19/2009-02-19_cop_and_nypd_slug_it_out_she_sues_for_se-1.html>.

Heidensohn, Frances. Women in Control?: The Role Of Women in Law Enforcement. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996.

“New York police department sued for gender discrimination.” 20 February 2009. New York employment lawyers blog. 9 November 2010 <http://www.nyemploymentlawyer.com/2009/02/police_officer_sues_nypd_for_g.html>.

“Police sexism extended to retired officers.” 21 May 2001. Police Oracle. 9 November 2010 <http://www.policeoracle.com/news_articles/police_news/POLICE_SEXISM_IN_RETIREMENT_32.htm>.

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