The Memphis Police Department and the New York State Police took a pledge this week to increase the representation of women in their ranks to 30%, joining a total of 150 law enforcement agencies in the US and Canada that have made the commitment in the past year.
The 30x30 Initiative is a coalition of police leaders, researchers, and professional organizations aiming to increase the representation of women in police recruit classes to 30% by 2030 and ensure that policing culture and policies support these women throughout their careers.
Four other police departments took the pledge – which had its one-year anniversary on Friday – in recent weeks, including Fresno, California; the Metropolitan Police Department in Washington DC; Indiana University at Bloomington; and the city of Bloomington in Indiana, according to Kym Craven, executive director of the National Association of Women Law Enforcement Executives (NAWLEE).
Research shows women make up roughly 12% of sworn law enforcement positions nationwide, and only 3% of executive level positions, Craven said.
The 30x30 Initiative is affiliated with NAWLEE and the Policing Project at NYU School of Law.
“We started this with really no funding and just sheer will. We’ve now attracted some funding and we’re expanding our programming as a result of that,” Craven said. “They come in steadily and we’re getting a real big diversity of agencies signing on now. Even smaller agencies are seeing that they can join the pledge.”
State police agencies are further behind
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul announced on Wednesday the New York State Police signed the 30x30 pledge as part of its recruitment campaign for its entrance exam, which is the first step towards becoming a state trooper, according to a press release.
The state police, which has a female membership of 11.6%, also “redesigned its recruitment program to reach more female and minority candidates,” the governor’s office said.
The New York State Police was “created due to the efforts of two women,” Moyca Newell and Katherine Mayo, who started a “movement to form a state police department that would provide protection to all of New York’s rural areas,” according to Hochul’s office. As a result of their efforts, the New York State Legislature passed a law in 1917 that established the state police.
“The State Police was created over 100 years ago after the determined efforts of two women,” Hochul said in a statement. “We will build on this legacy and continue to diversify our ranks, and I encourage all who are interested to take advantage of the opportunity to have a profound and positive impact on the lives of others by joining this law enforcement community.”
Craven said the move is significant because the number of women in state law enforcement agencies is much lower than municipal organizations, hovering between 7% to 9% of female representation in the ranks.
“When you think of 12 to 13% being the average and getting to 30% by 2030, state police organizations are just much further behind,” she said.
“As these bigger agencies come on board and can adopt these policies and practices that can really change what this looks like for the long-term, they need to be able to step forward and be informed,” Craven added.
‘Law enforcement wasn’t ready for us,’ chief says
Memphis Police Chief CJ Davis, the department’s first woman chief, announced Tuesday the agency would take the 30x30 pledge in celebration of Women’s History Month.
The number of women in the department is already higher than the national average, standing at 17%, according to the department.
“17% is a lot, especially in a male-dominated sort of environment,” Davis said in a public statement. “If we’re intentional in our recruiting campaigns and projecting our department as one that is inclusive for any woman that wants a challenging career, I think we can get there. We have time to get there.”
Davis, who was appointed in 2021, said the initiative is an “incredible opportunity” to promote women and noted that she was one of only two female officers who graduated from her recruit class in the early days of her career.
“It didn’t mean that the other women in that class weren’t qualified, it was that we were ready for law enforcement, but law enforcement wasn’t ready for us,” she said.
Policing still needs more diversity
NAWLEE was established in 1996 by six female police leaders to support women in the field. The association offers a mentoring program to help agencies promote as many women as possible through the ranks by offering support, training and education.
It also conducts focus groups to look at female-friendly policies such as modified work schedules for women planning to have children and strong policies against discrimination and harassment.
Departments around the country are having higher percentages of women in their recruit classes, Craven said, as NAWLEE continues to do outreach and spread the word about the movement.
Police departments in major cities such as Baltimore; Austin, Texas; New York; and Miami have all signed the pledge, agreeing to report on their efforts to “identify and address the obstacles that women officers face in recruitment and throughout their careers,” according to the initiative’s website.
In December, New York became the largest city to appoint its first woman police chief to lead an agency that employs roughly 52,000. Cities such as Philadelphia, Atlanta, Seattle, Oakland, Portland, Oregon and Washington, DC, have all had female police chiefs or currently employ one.
According to the 30x30 Initiative, the under-representation of women in policing “undermines public safety.” Research has found female officers are less likely to face allegations of excessive force and are named in fewer complaints and lawsuits.
Research also shows “certain policies disproportionately dissuade women from becoming law enforcement officers,” according to a special report by the National Institute of Justice.
In joining the initiative, agencies agree to increase female representation in all ranks; ensure that policies and procedures are free from bias; promote equitable hiring, retention and promotion of women; and ensure their culture is inclusive, respectful and supportive of women officers.
“We look forward to the expanded role of women in the profession,” Craven said. “We truly believe it’s a way to increase trust within communities, and that because of the different strategies that women bring to the role, it will really change the profession over time.”