What Barriers Do Women Face In Policing?

Published: Thursday, July 25, 2019 - 11:57am
Updated: Thursday, July 25, 2019 - 1:35pm
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LAUREN GILGER: A Mesa Police Officer was pulled from duty this week after several female officers in the department came forward to accuse him of sexual harassment. They say the city and the department failed to discipline Officer Jeffrey Neese after they complained... that he sent graphic sexual text messages. And at the same time a 32-year-old female police officer for the Phoenix Police Department is suing for gender discrimination. Her suit describes how supervisors withdrew their approval of her transfer to a different squad after they found out she was pregnant. So, what barriers do women face in policing? For more on that, I sat down with Cathryn Anderson, founder and chair of the Women's Initiative Network, which works to recruit and mentor women in law enforcement. She is a retired police officer herself, a former deputy... Sheriff for Pima County, and she served two years on the Arizona Peace Officer Standards and Training Board. I asked her first, if this surprises her at all? Like, how often do cases like this come up?

CATHRYN ANDERSON: I don't have statistics about how often it comes up. I can tell you that we're probably not very different than any other male dominated industry, where women are still trying to overcome some of the barriers that we have been fighting ever since we were permitted to be in the industry, and are still making our way. The fact that it's law enforcement, and we have a voice and we are continuing to be in the spotlight, so to speak, just makes it that we are now front page on this topic.

GILGER: Give us a little history, I mean you mentioned there... that women are allowed to be in the profession now, when did that happen?

ANDERSON: So, it actually happened in the early '70s, about 1972, which was the year I was born. So we're not even 50 years old in this profession. So, it's still in its infancy.

GILGER: Yeah, yeah. So, give us a sense then, so you also have served with the Arizona Peace Officer Standards and Training Board, so I want to... talk about what cities are supposed to do, what departments are supposed to do, what mechanisms are in place when issues like sexual harassment arise. What are the protocol?

ANDERSON: So, every agency has their own policies regarding police officer conduct. There's also the ethical standards of Arizona POST, that every peace officer takes the oath... to uphold. And while it doesn't specifically explain sexual harassment and not to do it, there is the conduct of officers that we uphold the oath to say, I will not do anything that disrupts the public trust in my ability to carry out my job. And so, that's where I would assume that agencies would look to having sexual harassment behavior fall into.

GILGER: I wanna talk about then, the culture around this. So... women have not even, like you say, been in law enforcement for very long, been allowed to be in law enforcement for very long. So, I wonder in your experience and as you work with women in law enforcement now, which is still a small number of women, relatively, what are the challenges? What do they face?

ANDERSON: So, first of all, it is changing. It's... a great time to be in law enforcement and it is improving every day. There's so many more opportunities. There's so many more women interested. So, in light of that, there are still barriers, there are still challenges. And the idea that we have still these situations that do happen, are something that we have to talk about, we have... face. And, as the leaders and the executives and the commanders of organizations, we have to be the ones that say this is a situation that we can't tolerate. I think one of the things that that does occur is, when we see it happening there's still some fear of calling it out. There's still some unwritten acceptance of the behavior because it's been there. But it is not acceptable. And the ability to call it out and put a stop to it in the workplace is something... that there's still a reluctance to do.

GILGER: That's still a challenge. Does that point to a culture problem or a slow kind of culture shift in law enforcement, in terms of gender diversity?

ANDERSON: It is. And, so it's educating, not just the fact that it's wrong and the fact that it's unacceptable, but then how do we call it out? How do we, as the people who are witnessing it, say to a counterpart that we have to trust out on the street to have our back in the most critical situations to say, I don't like what you said in there I don't think it's right, and I I don't want to hear it. It's... an environment in which we.. have to create this unbreakable trust with somebody but yet still hold them to the highest standards. And it really is this path that we have to walk, not just on a day by day basis but literally a call by call basis.

GILGER: Yeah. So, like we mentioned there aren't very many women in law enforcement still, the most recent data that Pew Research Center had was from 2013 said 12% of full time local police officers are women. That's just up from 8% in 1987. That's not a huge increase. So, you work with women, you try to get women into law enforcement, you encourage them to take this path. How do you convince them that this is something that is worth it for them?

ANDERSON: So, here in the state of Arizona we've actually faced that as well a few years ago, we were... at 10% and we're actually now just ahead of the national average at about 13%. We actually have agencies as highest 21%. Maricopa County Attorney's Office is blowing numbers away with 21%. And so, what we do is, first of all, we look at the demographics of the... areas that we serve. Maricopa County is 52% women. And so, we want to recruit based upon the areas that we serve.

GILGER: Why did you become a police officer?

ANDERSON: So, I left home very early. I left home at 16 and I joined the military, so... I'm an Army vet. And I wanted stability. I wanted to know that I could take care of my family. I was a young mom, I had my daughter at 19, and I wanted to make sure that I could provide for her and that's what law enforcement did for me. I actually wanted to become an FBI agent but I came back to my home, down in Tucson, and joined the Sheriff's Department. I had a retirement. I am 47 years old and I'm retired. I retired after 22 years with the department. I was able to get my education, I was able to have a life of adventure and challenge and raise a wonderful family, all because of the support and the... stability along with some very amazing adventures while giving back to my... community. I love the service side that the department was able to give me.

GILGER: So,... why has this become your mission, to sort of promote other women in this field, that just doesn't have very many?

ANDERSON: So, one of the stigmas that I found was, that women historically had been pitted against each other. And I saw that in my career as well. And there's a sense of tokenism, that if a woman was going for a position and there was already a woman in it, then she had to wait her turn. And I did not like that sense of tokenism. And I learned that there had to be a sisterhood created in order to really overcome this mentality that there was never going to be enough, that there was never enough room for all women.

GILGER: So, what do you hope comes of this work? Like, when and if you can get more women into law enforcement here, what difference do you hope it makes?

ANDERSON: That there's equity for any woman who wants this career and whether we ever achieve you know 50/50 in... this career or we stay at 12%, it doesn't matter. The idea that any woman who enters this career has every opportunity to succeed without question,... is what we're after.

GILGER: All right, Cathryn Anderson is the founder and chair of the Women's Initiative Network. Cathryn, thank you for coming in.

ANDERSON: Thank you very much for having me.

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