More Women Grabbing Top Cop Spots in U.S.

More Women Grabbing Top Cop Spots in U.S.
Anne Kirkpatrick, the new chief of the Oakland Police Department, when she was police chief in Spokane, Washington.web photo

According to this story from policeone.com, a change in preferred techniques at police departments nationwide has lead to various departments tapping more women for leadership roles.

The story uses Anne Kirkpatrick, formerly a police chief in Spokane, Washington, as a prime example. It was announced last month that Kirkpatrick had been chosen by Mayor Libby Schaaf to lead the troubled Oakland, California police department, which hadn't had anyone at the helm since June when the city went through three chiefs in less than two weeks amidst a sexual misconduct scandal involving multiple officers and an underage prostitute, according to this story from The Wall Street Journal.

The story says Kirkpatrick is one of a small group of women chiefs in the U.S. most recently oversaw reforms in Chicago at a department that has been under intense scrutiny in recent years for police shootings and a code of silence among officers.

Oakland was also grappling with the sexual-misconduct scandal, but also still struggling to come into compliance with court-ordered reforms resulting from a 2003 settlement over police misconduct.

The policeone.com story says female police officers tend to use wits over brawn to deescalate potentially violent situations—and as departments shift their focus to nonviolent techniques, it's natural they would tap more women as leaders.

"A lot of police chiefs say women had a profound impact on the culture of policing," said Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum in the story. "They bring their own set of skills to a traditionally male-dominated culture, and that is very helpful."

Though they are increasing in number, women leading police departments is still an exclusive club.

Of the nation's 50 largest police departments, only five are led by women, the story says. A 2013 survey conducted by the National Association of Women Law Enforcement Executives found just 169 women leading the more than 1,500 police departments, sheriff's offices and other law enforcement agencies across the U.S. that responded.

"There are still a lot of agencies that you see there are no females in even supervisory or command-level positions," Layman said in the story. "I think females just bring something different to the table. The goal is to diversify the table. We don't want cookie-cutter. We learn more, we bring more to the table when it is diverse."

The story says research shows female officers tend to use communication to help defuse potentially volatile situations, a technique to which many police departments are now shifting their focus.

"For women officers, this tends to come to them naturally," Wexler said. "I think departments who have had a lot of experience hiring women recognize how invaluable they are in diffusing contentious situations."

While the first generation of female police chiefs came about in smaller departments, including university police departments, the past few years there has been an uptick in women breaking through and rising to the top tier of large departments, often times with bad images. Also, as it becomes more commonplace, mayors don’t feel that they're doing something controversial by choosing a woman for a top cop spot.

"They are supposed to be the healers. It's a terrible burden," said Schulz, whose work includes two books on women in policing. "I don't think that's based on any solid research; I think that's based on a feeling that it is going to set a different tone."