Police Association Helping Women Reach New Law Enforcement Heights

Women are increasingly finding roles in law enforcement leadership—especially in the nation's capital. But there's still progress to be made, and one association has been working to close the gender gap.

A generation ago, it would have been extremely unlikely to see a woman in a leadership position in law enforcement. But police chiefs like Washington, D.C.’s Cathy Lanier are gaining increasing prominence. And with the help of one association, the trend is growing.

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The nation’s capital sets the trend: Although women by and large are struggling to reach leadership roles in police departments nationwide, that’s not the case in the nation’s capital. In Washington, women lead six different law enforcement organizations: the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department, the U.S. Park Police, the U.S. Secret Service, the FBI Field Office, the Drug Enforcement Administration, and the Amtrak Police Department. And the rise of women in in D.C. law enforcement goes beyond a few high-profile leadership roles: According to Lanier, women make up 22 percent of the MPD force. Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, told USA Today the effort in the District of Columbia largely reflects the rise of career-oriented women in these roles. “This didn’t just happen,” he said.

Organizational support: The National Association of Women Law Enforcement Executives (NAWLEE) helps to mentor and draw attention to the needs of female law enforcement officers in management roles. Its board includes a number of women leaders, such as NAWLEE President Kristen Ziman, commander of the Aurora (Illinois) Police Department. The group is currently conducting a study, along with the International Association of Chiefs of Police, on women in police command positions. “We want good, accurate numbers that we can use to identify mentors and other programs that can be helpful for women just embarking on law enforcement careers,” NAWLEE Executive Director Roe Manghisi told USA Today.

While there is still much to do, Lanier notes that just a few decades ago, women and men didn’t even share the same patrol cars.

“That happened in my lifetime,” she told USA Today.

Cathy Lanier, chief of the District of Columbia Metropolitan Police Department, shown in a squad car mirror. (photo by Elvert Barnes/Flickr)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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