Not quite a decade ago, the Newark Police Department was desperately looking for ways to hire 400 officers, a shortage stemming from layoffs and attrition from retirements. Police Chief Ivonne Roman saw a disturbing pattern. Although female applicants did better than their male counterparts on the entrance tests and background checks, 60 to 85 percent of them were flunking out of the academy. The physical fitness test, which men and women had previously passed at similar rates, had been moved from near the end of the five-month academy to the first three weeks. Roman began convening female recruits for boot camp sessions, getting them in shape to be better prepared for the test, which includes a 300-meter run, two dozen push-ups and 28 sit-ups, each of which must be done in about a minute. “All of the women I trained passed and graduated the academy, becoming the largest representation of women in a police academy class. Thirty-one of the 48 were women,” she recalled.
It was unlikely to make much of an impact in a profession that remains overwhelmingly male. Only about 12 percent of sworn officers and 3 percent of police leadership in the U.S. are women — numbers that haven’t budged in decades. Other countries, including Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom, have nearly twice the percentage of women in their police forces, writes Washington Post columnist Karen Tumulty. This needs to change, and maybe will, if only out of necessity. Law enforcement agencies are facing a personnel shortage that is “the number one issue in policing right now,” said Chuck Wexler of the Police Executive Research Forum. Police departments are turning their attention to one of the most obvious and untapped solutions: attracting and retaining more female officers. Upward of 300 law enforcement agencies have joined what is known as the “30x30” initiative, signing a pledge to have at least 30 percent of their recruits be women by 2030. Police officers now get much higher salaries than they once did, at times six figures. Agencies are realizing they must also offer benefits and a culture that could attract more women. The San Diego Police Department, which was losing three or four officers a month and was down by more than 200 officers, has set up an economical child care center that is open from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m.