A debate is raging on a proposal to increase the number of women officers in the Los Angeles Police Department, even though study after study has demonstrated that women make good cops. Furthermore, as a group, they’re better than men at avoiding excessive use of force.
A 1973 study of female police-officer performance in Washington, D.C., found that women were dealing with just as many violent or unruly suspects as the men, and were responding to similar types of calls. The study found that “there were no reported incidents that cast doubts on the women’s abilities to perform patrol work satisfactorily.” Further, the women “seemed more effective than the men in defusing potentially violent situations.”
In a study of all 3,515 complaints filed against New York City police officers in 1989, women received fewer complaints, were less inclined to use deadly force and were involved in fewer shooting incidents, even though they were involved in just as many violent confrontations as the men.
Here in Los Angeles, the Christopher Commission found that “female LAPD officers are involved in excessive use of force at rates substantially below those of male officers.”
Author and former police officer Joseph Wambaugh knows perhaps more about the psychology and culture of policing than any opinion-maker of our day. He believes that police departments should be 50% female or more. In 1992 he wrote: “It is no longer even remotely sensible to assert that size and strength are prerequisites for police service . . . .” In 1991, he told The Times: “Police work is not about physical altercations, it’s not about shooting people . . . . It’s about talking to people. Women are awfully good at talking to people. They’re awfully good at problem-solving and that’s all police work is. The very best cops are the ones who can get people to talk to them. Women are eminently better qualified at that.” In other words, women make good cops. By hiring more of them, we can reduce our liability in lawsuits alleging excessive force by officers, which, according to the Christopher Commission, cost the city more than $20 million between 1986 and 1990.
We can also halt the marginalization of our female officers, and perhaps put a stop to the cop-on-cop sexual-harassment lawsuits that over the last several years have cost the taxpayers $400,000--and counting.
Clearly, it is in the city’s policing and financial interest to hire more qualified women for the LAPD. The motion that I and Councilwoman Jackie Goldberg have introduced would increase the annual police hiring goal for women from 30%, as it stands now, to “work-force gender parity,” or 43.4%.
Let’s debunk some of the counter-arguments:
* Increasing the female hiring goal will not lower standards. I have called for “validating” our admissions testing process to ensure that it’s job-related. It is unfair--and illegal--to require job-seekers to adhere to a standard that has nothing to do with the job. We currently require applicants to scale a 6-foot wall. But once they’ve been hired, they never again have to demonstrate this skill. In fact, the LAPD has no ongoing physical fitness requirements or training of any kind. Applicants--and police officers--should be physically fit. But we shouldn’t employ a standard that has nothing to do with the job.
* Our proposal will not create a “quota system” for women nor risk a lawsuit by white men. Our proposal has nothing to do with mandatory quotas. Instead, it sets a goal, which, according to the city attorney, is entirely lawful.
* Adding more women will not lower department morale. This same argument was made 50 years ago against racial integration of the armed forces, and even against integration of LAPD. It was wrong then, and it’s wrong now.
* Women officers do not leave the department more quickly. The attrition rates for women and men are nearly identical.
* Women want these jobs. It’s true that most women have not been brought up to think of policing as a career. If women are made to feel wanted and respected in the department, they will apply and succeed as cops. If the city insists on perpetuating the myth that women aren’t up to the job and are therefore not wanted, then indeed women won’t apply.
A Los Angeles Police Department that is balanced between men and women will do much good for our city. It will reduce excessive-force incidents and advance the goal of community-based policing. It will improve the department’s response to domestic-violence and sexual-assault cases, which make up a significant percentage of its calls. It will lower the incidence of sexual harassment and discrimination among officers and reduce the city’s financial liability. It will produce a police department that reflects the face of our society--and that’s the best kind of a police force to have.