It’s Women’s History Month! What better time to celebrate women in policing. We’ve addressed this topic before, but today we’ll focus on female chiefs of police.
The phrase “first female police chief” seems to be appearing in the news with greater and greater frequency these days. Over the past six to 12 months, several large jurisdictions have advanced women to the highest rank of their police force. For example:
The very first female chief in the United States was appointed only in the past two or three decades – not surprising given the low representation of women in policing. Penny Harrington was the first woman to be named chief of a major city when she was tapped to lead the Portland, Oregon, Police Department in 1985. In the mid 90s, Beverly Harvard became the first African-American woman to lead a large department (Atlanta).
The International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) does not maintain records on the number of female chiefs of police, but some reports suggest around 1% of chiefs nationwide are women. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the representation of women in policing is increasing, steadily but slowly, up from 7.6% in 1987 to nearly 12% in 2007. Representation is higher in larger police departments like Detroit, Philadelphia, DC, and Chicago, where nearly 1 in 4 officers are female. So, it stands to reason that we’ll (hopefully) see more and more women ascending to leadership positions in police agencies. As more women rise through the ranks, more will be eligible – that is, have the experience – to compete for the top spot.
The IACP has long championed diversity, particularly women, in policing. From its 1998 Mandate for Action and long-standing Diversity Coordinating Panel to the more recent Discover Policing recruitment initiative with its associated Mentor Center, and the new Women’s Leadership Institute, the IACP believes it is essential to strengthen the position of women in policing, their number, their professional development, and their progress to positions of leadership.
Other organizations, including the National Association for Women Law Enforcement Executives, the International Association of Women Police, and the National Center for Women and Policing are further committed to advancing women in law enforcement and providing support and resources for their success.
Who knows, maybe someday “first female police chief” won’t be quite so newsworthy anymore …