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Girl Power

More and More Women Entering City Police Academy

Frank Klein
WOMEN ON TOP: Baltimore Police spokeswoman Nicole Monroe says that in many situations, people respond differently--sometimes more favorably--toward female police officers than they would to male officers

By Stephen Janis | Posted 1/25/2006

The Baltimore Police Department is getting in touch with its feminine side.

According to the department, two rookie classes now undergoing training at the Baltimore Police Academy consist of one-third women. Each 90-rookie class includes about 30 women. This is a jump from the academy’s usual 4-1 male/female class ratio. Nationwide, women make up roughly 12.7 percent of the police forces in urban areas with populations of 50,000 or more.

BPD spokesman Matt Jablow says these rookie-class numbers reflect an increasing trend of women working for the department.

“While the current rookie classes are higher than normal in terms of women, roughly 25 percent of new officers sworn in over the past five years are women,” he says. “More women are applying now as a percentage of total applicants than ever before.”

Jablow says he does not know the reason women are flocking to the police department, noting that though women are featured in recruitment ads, the department does not specifically target either gender.

If the trend continues, according to some law-enforcement professionals, the influx of female police officers could have a positive impact on the department’s relationship with citizens, some of whom have recently declared frustration with alleged abuse of police power and illegal arrests.

Margie Moore, director of the National Center for Women and Policing, says female officers handle situations differently than male officers.

“Studies show that women are better at defusing violent situations,” she says. “Women use verbal skills instead of force and are better at cross-cultural communication.”

To back up her claims she cites a 2002 study titled “Men, Women, and Police Excessive Force: A Tale of Two Genders,” by Kim Lonsway, then a research director at the National Center for Women and Policing. The report compared civil payments made by the cities of Cincinnati and Los Angeles on behalf of officers sued for use of excessive force. The study found that the average male officer costs “somewhere between two and one half and five times more than the average female officer in excessive force liability.” It also found that male officers were eight and a half times more likely than female officers to “have an allegation of excessive force sustained against him.”

Despite the apparent benefits of hiring female officers, there are relatively few female police officers across the country. A 2001 study titled “Equality Denied: The Status of Women in Policing,” conducted by the National Center for Women and Policing, examined urban and rural police departments across the country and found that in most places women make up a very small part of a police force: 12.7 percent in urban areas, and 8.1 percent in rural areas. The report concludes by pointing out that “the number of women in law enforcement has increased at an alarmingly slow rate over the past 30 years and women remain severely under-represented in large, small, and rural law enforcement agencies.” Though the report is nearly four years old, center director Moore, a retired federal agent for the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, says that the findings still apply today. “We’ve heard anecdotally that it seems to have gotten worse,” she says. When told about the growing number of women joining the BPD, she seems surprised and says, “Baltimore must being doing good outreach.”

BPD spokeswoman Nicole Monroe, a 12-year veteran officer with the department, says men and women bring different strengths to the job of being a police officer. But simply being a woman, she says, can be an advantage when it comes to violent confrontations.

“People respond differently to female officers. They bring down the level of confrontation,” Monroe says, adding that women also react differently than men in many policing situations. “We don’t need to be politically correct about the differences between men and women. The fact remains that there is a distinct difference on how men and women go about things.”

Monroe says she doesn’t know what is drawing more women to the force these days, but cadet Jasmine Riggins, 25, says she joined because she wants to contribute something toward fixing the city’s problems. Riggins, who has been at the Baltimore Police Academy since October, says many of the other women in her class feel the same way.

“One of the requirements of being a police officer is to be a counselor,” she says. “The city needs people that communicate and not prejudge a person.”

Riggins says that she’d like to eventually work in internal affairs after putting in her time as a patrol officer. So far, she says, her experience training to be a police officer has been a good one—except for a recent incident with pepper spray, which she says taught her not to use the disabling chemical agent lightly.

“Pepper spray is no joke,” she says. “It hurts for a long time. People would probably rather get shot than get hit with pepper spray!”

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