Editorials, Opinion

MPD wants to recruit more women. It’s on the right track

The Morgantown Police Department will host an open house for women to learn about joining law enforcement   from 5:30-7:30 p.m. Wednesday at the former Defense in Depth facility. The recruitment event is part of the “30×30 Pledge” to have 30% female officers in the department by 2030. We hope the event gets a good turnout — not just because the MPD has vacancies it needs to fill, but because there are multiple advantages to having women on the force.

There is decades worth of research on women’s impact in law enforcement, with studies dating back to at least the 1970s. For example, one 1976 study found female partners had a calming effect on their male partners in high-stress situations, leading to fewer officer deaths. Here are some of the other advantages:

Advantage No. 1: Women officers are less likely to use excessive force and to be named in complaints and lawsuits. A 2008 study found “female officers and same-gender female-female officer pairs used less force and were less likely to use physical force, in police-citizen encounters when compared to their male counterparts.” Another study reviewed data from the Chicago Police Department (over 7,000 officers) from 2015-17 and found female officers used force 28% less often than their male counterparts. It makes sense, then, that women police are less likely to be named in lawsuits, as other studies have found. 

Advantage No. 2: More female officers results in better outcomes in sex- and gender-based crimes. One study, published in 2018, examined crime data from the 70s through the 90s as more women were integrated into the police force. The study found that the increased presence of women in law enforcement related to more reports of violent crimes against women in the area but to significantly fewer intimate partner murders and non-fatal domestic abuse. In other words, with more women on the force, more women were comfortable reporting that they were being abused, and they were more likely to receive help and protection. The same goes for rape cases, according to a separate study looking at data from 1993-2013: When there are more women in a department, there are higher reports of rape in the community — because women are more willing to report incidents of sexual assault — but there is also a higher rate of rape cases being cleared.

Advantage No. 3: Departments with larger shares of female officers have better relationships with the community. As a 2003 study pointed out, departments with more women officers are more likely to use “community-oriented policing,” which is defined by the Department of Justice as the “systematic use of partnerships and problem-solving techniques to proactively address the immediate conditions that give rise to public safety issues.” A 2014 study concluded “gender representation does indeed influence the perceived job performance, trustworthiness, and fairness of the agency … and thus in turn perhaps their willingness to cooperate in the coproduction of public safety outcomes.”

However, the one thing Morgantown Police needs to keep in mind is that female officers still face discrimination, bullying and sexual harassment at far higher rates than their male peers (and often perpetuated by said peers). If Morgantown PD wants to successfully recruit women to join the force and — more importantly — retain them, the department is going to have to show that it has the policies and systems in place to protect female officers from in-house abuse. And it’s going to have to prove that it will enforce those policies with real consequences rather than turning a blind eye or sweeping allegations under the rug.