Women of the law

The struggle for equal employment opportunities continues in the world of law enforcement, but some woman officers are making strides to “even out the playing field.”

Cpl. Sherri Luke of the Florida A&M University Police Department is one such woman. 

“Being a female officer is great,” Luke said. “I am able to see law enforcement from a unique perspective…I approached law enforcement with gusto and the mindset of community service instead of just reactive law enforcement.”

In 2001, women accounted for only 12.7 percent of all law enforcement positions in large agencies, according to a 2003 study by National Center for Women & Policing, a division of the Feminist Majority Foundation. 

Today in 2008, some officers said they notice a change in the number of women recruits. 

“I am an instructor at the police academy and I see an increase in recruits,” Luke said. “I am also proud to say that the female recruits are just as qualified as the male recruits and are often leaders in the class.”

Luke said female officers bring a more compassionate side to law enforcement.  “Females tend to want to solve problems not just stop them.”

Joy Ferrell, a correctional officer at the Tallahassee County Jail, said he feels women should not have to compete with their male counterparts. 

“I never felt like I needed or was ever forced to work harder than anyone else,” she said. “Both male and female officers have a lot of responsibilities and we all work together to get the job done. We just do it in different ways.”

Luke said she feels being a female officer is an advantage.

“I have found that being a female has a distinct advantage over male officers when it comes to investigations,” she said.

“Defendants are more relaxed with female officers and often mistakenly feel that female officers are not as quick as male officers, which leads them to make critical mistakes when testifying. Sexual assault investigations are easier for females to conduct due to the nature of the crime.”

Kiah Traendly, 20, a junior public relations student from New Jersey, said when dealing with sensitive issues, “I would prefer a female officer because they would better understand my problem and would better know how to assist me in delicate situations.”

Even with all of the strides women have made in the field of law enforcement there are still barriers to break.  Some women officers said it takes quite some time to get their foot in the door. 

“I spent my first several years working a lot harder to be accepted and had to prove myself, which causes a lot of stress and sometimes tainted my perception of law enforcement,” Luke said. “Once I proved myself, things were great.  I was just another officer.”

Ferrell mentioned the importance of teamwork.

“In law enforcement, it’s not women against men, it’s officer against criminal,” Ferrell said. “Regardless of female or male, we all pull together and cover each other’s backs.”

Luke offered advice for women choosing law enforcement as a career.

“Stay focused and make time for yourself and family,” she said.

“Learn your limitations and develop ways to overcome them. Do not take your job home. Your soft side may get you a little ribbing, but watch how quick you’re called to conduct an interview because of that same nature,” she continued.

“Do not let others lead you into traditional female jobs such as sexual assault investigator, juvenile officer or etcetera.  If you want to be SWAT, you are as good as any male officer, so go for it.  Lastly, know that others have gone before you to pave an easier way for you. Make us proud and use the roads we have made.”