MIDLAND, Michigan — The number of female police officers across the country is low and hasn’t grown much in two decades. Now, police departments are trying to diversify their ranks through recruiting and changing mindsets.
According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the national average of sworn women police officers in county and city departments is approximately 13%, a number that hasn’t changed since 1998. State police organizations struggle to maintain half that number, which is why police departments across the country are trying to recruit more women officers.
“I like to believe we’ve come a long way in my 24r years of service, but we definitely have some work to do,” said Midland Police Chief Nicole Ford. “We still have people who believe that women don’t belong in this field which is frightening in 2022.”
The Midland Police Department, located in Michigan, has 50 police officers and six of them are women, which is about 12%.
According to a new Pew Research Center study, about 9% of Michigan State Police officers are women. However, the State Police plans to increase the percentage of women in its applicant pool up to 20% by the end of the year.
There could be several reasons behind the lack of women in law enforcement, said Ford, including sexism and even harassment.
“It hasn’t been the same in all the departments I’ve served at,” Ford said. “I’ve seen several different versions of this field depending on where I’m at.”
When asked if Ford has dealt with any harassment issues, she responded yes.
“It’s just different at different levels. As a young road officer, I had one of my male partners pinch my butt at one time. It’s appalling to even say now because that wouldn’t happen now. I’ve had everything from complete over sexual harassment by today’s standards, to where you walk into a room, and no one wants to acknowledge your existence.”
Because of some of these challenges, Ford is combating it by having a more open-door policy in her department.
“I think part of it is creating an atmosphere of trust to know you can bring a problem like that forward and it would not bring down your entire career,” Ford said.
Ford has made it one of the department’s goals to recruit more women in law enforcement and hopes that Midland could be one of the leading examples in the country.
“In this community, women make up 51% percent,” Ford said. “I think any police department is better off if they can represent the community that they serve. It is a lot of intentional contact in recruiting, not only with bringing more women in but bringing in more minorities. We’ve partnered with organizations like Bridge the Gap, it helps us bring minorities candidates to the table that we might not see otherwise. Any time we can bring more eyes to a situation with different viewpoints we’re better at what we’re doing.”