Law Enforcement Diversity in the Workforce

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As societal norms change, originations become more diverse in order to meet the needs of a multicultural and diverse clientele, police departments are being forced to evolve as well. Just as the civil rights and the women’s movement took place in the factories in the early 1900’s. Change began to take place with the countries law enforcement agencies. At first women held menial positions, little more than a glorified social worker. As the times change and the need for a more specialized police force began to grow, so did the role of female officers. Nearly all of the major police departments in the country have a diverse workforce today. However some departments are doing better than others.

Diversity in Law Enforcement

When we look at modern Law Enforcement we see a diverse work force, with men and women of all races, creeds, and nationalities. This was not always the case however. The story of women in law enforcement is an evolving one. The evolution of women in law enforcement closely parallels the evolution of women in the workforce in general, with a few interesting twists. In fact during the early days of Law Enforcement women were not even allowed to be police officers, unless they worked with children on truancy issues, as matrons they also guarded female prisoners, and were relegated to the “Women’s Bureau” with limited responsibilities. Some police departments would hire widows of police officers in an attempt to offer some type of death benefit.

In cities such as New York and Chicago this practice continued from about 1910 until the congress passed an amendment to the 1962 Civil Rights Act, which prohibited state and local agencies of any type of job discrimination based on gender. This meant the human resources departments had to adjust the way they interviewed potential candidates for police training. Before the departments had one set of requirements as far as physical fitness standards, now they would need two, one for men and one for women. It seemed that this split standard would increase the number of women that would not only apply but also move into more meaningful roles within the departments. This was not always the case.

Women were still not treated as equals. With the lower targets for physical ability the women were seen as “not real cops” or thought of as not being as able as there male counterparts, most were not allowed to drive pursuit cars or even use shoot shotguns. The 20th Century The 20th century brought in the first sworn women police officer. Lola Baldwin was sworn in as a police officer in Portland Oregon. Her duties were again primarily social work in nature. She was assigned to protect young women in the Lewis and Clark Centennial Exposition in 1905.

In 1908, because of her success in this assignment she was sworn in as an officer, with the power to arrest. In 1910 the Los Angeles Police Department went a step farther when the department swore in Alice Wells as the countries fires official “policewoman” with badge number 1. Wells would be the founding member of the “International Association of Policewomen” just 5 years later. In 1912 the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department swore in Margaret Adams as the country’s first female deputy sheriff. Her duties primarily involved evidence collecting and processing, known today as C.S.I. (crime scene investigation).

Women were continuing to serve in law enforcement within limited roles until the 1930’s and 1940’s “the Great Depression, and World War 2”. These two events caused an increase in competition for law enforcement jobs across the United States. This led to a decreased ability for women to compete with men for traditional police work. Women were able to continue to serve in more support roles, such as dispatch and other desk type positions. In the 1950’s the tide began to turn as women started moving into more male dominated roles in law enforcement. Some women even began to compete for some promotions against their male counterpart. In 1956 the “International Association of Women Police” was formed.

The association helped to support advancement for the women officers even more. By the 1960’s as police departments around the country, in cities like New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles were battling an increasingly difficult illegal drug distribution, and prostitution problem, a need for women to expand into more hands on crime fighting roles as undercover officers in vice squads was identified. In 1968 there was a major turning point in the battle for equality for women in law enforcement. The responsibility for “Car 47” with the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department was assigned to Betty Blankenship and Elizabeth Robinson, the first two female patrol officers in the country.

By the late 1970’s female officers were becoming more accepted by the general public, in part due to the popularity of “Get Christie Love” and “Policewoman”. Title 7 of the Civil Rights Act was implemented in 1972. The act made discrimination in public agencies, including all police departments. JoAnne Misko, and Susan Malone became the first fully sworn in FBI agents in the country, in large part because of Title 7. As the women’s movement in the United States made female service in what was once more male-dominated roles acceptable, law enforcement would be no exception. Penny Harrington broke through the proverbial “glass ceiling” when she appointed as Chief of Portland Police Bureau in the 1980’s.

This trend would continue when Beverly Harvard would become the first black female police chief in Atlanta in 1994. The International Association of Chiefs of Police conducted a study which identified several specific barriers concerning the advancement of women in police careers. Because of the effort to reduce or eliminate these barriers, today there are more than 300 women serving as Chief of Police across the nation. With women continuing to expand into more traditional police roles in the 1990’s several law enforcement associations devoted entirely to women came into existence. Some of these associations include the “National Association of Women Law Enforcement Executives” and the National Center for Women and Policing in 1995 and then in 1999 the “Women in Federal Law Enforcement Association” was formed.

By the end of the 1990’s women accounted for about 15% of all law enforcement officers across the country. The 21’s Century As police departments continue to discover the talents and gifts that female officers bring to the law enforcement profession, more and more positions become available for women. While it may be true that many female officers might not be as strong as male officers, female officers have been proven to have abilities that many male officers do not have. These advantages include a less confrontational style. Many male officers while not intending to, present a more aggressive style of policing simply by being a male.

Women have a more calming attitude or presence in stressful situations, even though many women can be nearly aggressive as male officers when needed. Women officers are also less likely to use excessive force. Female officers also have the ability to exercise empathy and diffuse many domestic calls. In many situations the abilities of female officers often complement those of the male officers, resulting in both tactical and investigative advantage when male and women officers are deployed together. There are many examples of female officers who have helped to advance women in law enforcement’ from the early 1900’s to the 21’s century.

But diversity in law enforcement is not confined to just women. Culturally diverse police departments There are some that would argue that diversity promoting policies exist only to remedy past wrongs of discrimination, and in fact hide the continuing discrimination that is evident in many departments today. Many believe these policies also seek to move traditionally disadvantaged groups into more lucrative positions and management jobs. Others have the view that employers should not focus on recruiting and hiring minorities simply because they are minorities, but rather recruit and hire the best qualified candidates without regard to cultural diversity. It is clear that neither of these viewpoints understands the benefits of a diverse workforce. We understand how important a multicultural/diverse work force to a company’s success in the private arena is, it is even more important in law enforcement.

With many of the laws, and even department policies in place that encourage diversity, law enforcement agencies are in a position to take advantage of the many benefit of a diverse work force. However, for whatever reason many police departments continue to fail over and over again in achieving cultural diversity at the expense their effectiveness and community relations. Ways to create a diverse workforce Typically there are two different ways police departments, as well as private sector companies seek to create diversity in the workplace.


Color-blindness is the approach in which a person’s race or other racial category makes no difference and should not be considered when making decisions like assignments, promotions and hiring. This approach hinges around the idea that people be treated and managed on their character and ability alone, with no regard for race. Social categories are disregarded forcing everyone to be as an individual. Multiculturalism The concept of multiculturalism is that different ethnic groups be intentionally included in the work place culture by acknowledging these groups.

Benefits of a Culturally Diverse Law Enforcement Agency

From a human resource view point of view acquiring a diverse group of employees is critical in developing the talents of all the employees allowing the company to compete in the global community. Just as diversity within an originations leadership is necessary to promote problem solving and improved innovation. Law enforcement agencies are no different. In fact departments that maintain and practice strict “inclusive” policies are likely to weed out, or eliminate highly prejudicial applicants, as well as current employees. When it comes to the eyes of public opinion, a diverse police force shows transparency and increases police legitimacy. Reports of police bias, and a fear of police brutality by African Americans, decrease as the departments increase their officer diversity. This increase in diversity can create a confidence in a police department’s ability to understand local issues.

A more diverse police department has the ability to create a better relationship with in the community allowing for positive interactions between law enforcement and members of the community, this in turn creates a more positive bases for “Community Based Policing”. Challenges of managing a diverse workforce Substantial cost can be incurred including legal actions, when an origination lacks diversity management. Many of this cost may stem from discrimination, negative employee attitudes such as lower commitment and lower job satisfaction, even negative publicity. In an article on managing cultural diversity, Researcher Taylor H. Cox and Stacy Blake “suggest that heterogeneous works groups will be more creative, innovative, and adapt at problem solving, but only if they are managed properly”, (Patrick Oliver, PhD, Police Chief (Ret.)).

In many law enforcement departments ethnic minorities are extremely underrepresented in sworn in law enforcement jobs (police officer, now support role). Many times it appears that human resources and recruiting departments practice the same old non-inclusive hiring practices. When trying to establish a culturally diverse work force is that police managers do not fully inform community members what is involved in becoming a successful candidate regarding testing, background investigations, and mandatory academy training. Most departments will not pay for academy training, and in most cases traditional financial aid will not cover a police academy.

Developing Selection Criteria

The first and possibly the biggest challenge facing the recruitment personnel are trying to find suitable candidates out of a group of candidates. Before H.R. departments can attempt to recruit qualified candidates they must first decide what makes a “good candidate”. Most departments identify five core traits an officer should possess: desire to serve, a team mentality, a desire to excel, integrity, and perhaps most importantly human relations skills. Studies have shown that if an officer possesses these 5 traits it is more likely that officer will be able to better develop leadership skills and prudent use of authority. It is imperative that officers possess these 5 traits because even the newest officer commands a sizeable amount of authority in the community where they serve.

Why diversity matters Law enforcement officers are the first ones to see the benefit in having a diverse police force. When you work in law enforcement you team and your partner can be the difference between life and death, finding justice for a victim or not. The more experience, views, and ideas a department can apply to the job the better. Major Albert Guerra of the Miami Police Department “Diversity in the force ensures that we are prepared for these cultural differences and help us avoid unfortunate misunderstandings”(Brianna Flavin). When people think about a career in law enforcement their first thought is not usually this is a people person type career. Law enforcement is exactly that. There are times when an officer needs to employ force, but 90% of the time police officers employ more H.R. and P.R skills.


If we spend most of our time in one and only one culture, and never try to expand our experience it will become difficult to recognize the many ways people communicate. It is impossible for one person to study, identify and to be able to effectively communicate with all the different cultures we interact with every day. This becomes even more difficult and crucial when we look at a multi-cultural society from a law enforcement point of view. This is why it is imperative that police departments continue to strive to become more diverse.

There are issues and situations where female officers are better suited, such as in domestic or child abuse cases. In some situations a Muslim officer is better suited, especially if the case involves Muslims or the crime happened in a Muslim community. A male Caucasian officer would not be able to question a Muslim woman in private area away from her husband, if the officer was unaware of Muslim tradition a very serious issue could arise. The can be said for Jewish, or a Bosnian investigation. In many cases the more diverse a police department becomes the better that department is able to effectively serve the community in which it operates. And that is the true mission of any law enforcement agency.


  1. Brianna Flavin (12/10/2018) Police Officers Explain Why Diversity in Law Enforcement Matters https://www.rasmussen.edu/degrees/justice-studies/blog/diversity-in-law-enforcement/
  2. Patrick Oliver, PhD, Police Chief (Ret.), Director of Criminal Justice Program, Cedarville University, Cedarville, Ohio Creating a Multicultural Law Enforcement Agency: An Intentional Priority http://www.policechiefmagazine.org/creating-a-multicultural-law-enforcement-agency/
  3. Betsy Brantner Smith (3/28/2019) Police History: The evolution of women in American law enforcement https://www.policeone.com/police-history/articles/8634189-Police-History-The-evolution-of-women-in-American-law-enforcement
  4. Adam Eisenberg: A Different Shade of Blue: How Women Changed the Face of Police Work by; Policefoundation.org https://www.allcriminaljusticeschools.com/law-enforcement/women-in-law-enforcement/

Cite this paper

Law Enforcement Diversity in the Workforce. (2020, Sep 08). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/law-enforcement-diversity-in-the-workforce/



Can diversity in law enforcement be a benefit to America's police force?
Yes, diversity in law enforcement can be a benefit to America's police force as it allows for a better understanding and representation of the diverse communities they serve, leading to improved trust and communication between police and the public. Additionally, diverse perspectives and experiences can bring fresh ideas and approaches to policing, ultimately resulting in more effective and equitable law enforcement practices.
What does diversity mean in the police?
Diversity in the police refers to the inclusion of people of different races, ethnicities, genders, and sexual orientations in the law enforcement agency. This term is used to promote fairness and equal treatment of all people, regardless of their background.
Why is diversity important in the criminal justice system?
Diversity is important in the criminal justice system because it helps ensure that all members of the community are treated fairly and equally. Additionally, diversity helps to create an environment of respect and understanding, which can lead to improved communication and cooperation between different groups.
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