Female officers are few

September 12, 2004|by PEPPER BALLARD

Women make up an average 7 percent of sworn officers in Washington County police agencies, a number that two researchers studying national police trends say is typical, but still low.

"I think we've come a long way baby, as they say, but it's slow and it's still uneven," said Carole Garrison, chairwoman of the Department of Criminal Justice and Police Studies at Eastern Kentucky University.

Garrison, who has been doing research on women in policing since the 1980s, now is working on editing a chapter in a book called "Women, Law and Social Control: Women in Policing in the 21st Century."


Hagerstown's women and policing history may date to 1932, when "Miss Margaret Buley" was hired at a salary of $1,500 per year as Hagerstown's first "policewoman" to handle "boys and girls when corrective measurements would be more easy to carry out," according to an archived newspaper story. But most retired and current officers questioned about her role for these stories said that she probably did not have arrest powers. Two women- one a county deputy and another a city officer - graduated from the Western Maryland Police Academy in 1977 and did have arrest powers, however.

Women now make up 5 percent of the county police force, 13 percent of the city force and 2 percent of the Maryland State Police Hagerstown barracks' force.

Garrison said that the numbers "would be consistent with the national averages."

Kim Lonsway, former research director for the National Center for Women and Policing, said she thought the county's figures seemed low. But she said that she was most concerned with the 2 percent figure at the Maryland State Police Hagerstown barracks, which she said is "low, troubling low."

She said that 2 percent was a figure seen in 1972 when women first were starting to join police forces of 100 or more officers. Lonsway said that since then, the numbers went up about a half percentage point each year until 1999, when police agencies of 100 or more officers were made up of an average of 14.3 percent women.

The local city police has 98 sworn officers, county police has about 80 sworn officers and the local state police barracks has 43 sworn officers, officials in those departments said.

Lonsway said that in the two years following 1999, numbers dropped by about 1 percentage point each year. One theory for the drop in numbers is that women who started police work in the 1970s now are retiring and are not being replaced at the same rate, she said.

"For the first time, the numbers aren't moving forward anymore," Lonsway said.

Local police agencies do not actively recruit women to join their forces, said City Police Chief Arthur Smith, County Sheriff Charles Mades and State Police Sgt. Thornnie Rouse, a public relations officer at the Pikesville, Md., state police headquarters.

Rouse said that state police "kind of shied away from gender specific recruitment." He added that there is a female recruiter in the recruitment division.

Lonsway said that police agencies that have a high percentage of women in their departments have placed recruitment posters in community colleges, women's restrooms and other places where women would see them.

"We'd love to have more women," Mades said. He said, however, that through the application process, both women and men are eliminated.

Only the best applicants prevail, male or female, at the city police department, too, Smith said.

Women "get no preference, no special treatment," he said.

Smith, who's been chief for about 41/2 years, added that of the 13 female officers in the department, six were hired during his term, but none were hired "because they were women."

Smith said that the city police has an above-average percentage of women on the force.

He said that about half the women on the force are in specialized departments, such as the Criminal Investigations Division, Washington County Narcotics Task Force and K-9 unit.

"We pick the best investigators," Smith said. "A third of our detectives are women."

Mades said that he would like to see more women apply for the job.

"The female presence has a more calming effect, such as cases of child abuse, domestic violence, rape cases, that type of thing," he said.

But Mades said that the department looks at certification and experience when hiring. He said he would be more likely to choose a male officer with a policing history over an untrained female.

Mades said that in an effort to keep female deputies with experience, the department now is working on a maternity leave policy since no female deputies have used such a policy in the past.

"I'm glad I've got what I've got," he said. "We just hope the gals stick with us."

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