Breaking the Brass Ceiling

Jennie Robinson, Huntsville City Council Representative District 3

Jennie Robinson
City Council President
Representative District 3

Female police officers have come a long way since the mid-19th century when women in law enforcement were limited to caring for female inmates and did not have the authority to make arrests. The honor of becoming the first policewoman goes to Alice Stebbins Wells of Los Angeles who was given the authority to arrest suspects and was responsible for the supervision of dance halls, skating rinks, penny arcades and theaters. In 1915, the National Association of Policewomen was organized with Wells as the first president.

The 1970s marked the era when women were increasingly accepted as police officers, not just police women. Eventually, female officers achieved greater equality winning notable discrimination lawsuits and the right to patrol their own beats. They called it “breaking the brass ceiling.”

While women have made significant strides in law enforcement, they are still dramatically underrepresented in American law enforcement. Women make up more than half of the U.S. population, yet less than 10-12% of law enforcement officers are female. In Huntsville, almost 10% of Huntsville Police Department (HPD) officers are female and 6% of supervisory officers are women. According to HPD Chief Mark McMurray, “Our #1 demographic recruiting challenge is minority females. Our #2 challenge is recruiting females of any race.”

We need female police officers. According to Police Chief magazine, “female officers are less likely to use excessive force or be named in a lawsuit than male officers… even though studies show that subjects use the same amount of force against female officers as against male officers, and in some cases, more force, female officers are more successful in defusing violent or aggressive behavior.”

The article goes on to say, “Women are consistently rated as trusted by their communities and, importantly, are motivated to serve communities in an era of decreased police legitimacy. Women have high levels of interpersonal communication skills, which translate into more effective practices in the field. Female police officers have a positive influence on the perceived job performance, trustworthiness, and fairness of a police agency, perhaps increasing the public’s willingness to cooperate in the production of positive public safety outcomes.”

Higher levels of female representation are associated with the kind of community policing that is a priority for HPD. Huntsville actively recruits women to join the ranks of its officers and is working hard to promote them to leadership positions. This issue of South Huntsville Neighbors highlights a few of the exceptional women who serve and protect our citizens. We are grateful for their service and hope other women will see their example and follow them to serve as officers.

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