Recently, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta lifted a ban on women in combat that is sure to have an effect on military operations. This change in policy made me think of women in law enforcement and what influence they have had.
The Bureau of Justice Statistics reported in their June 2010 Crime data brief (NCJ 230521) that women in law enforcement make up around 12 percent of the police workforce in the United States. In many large police agencies, that percentage is much greater. For example, in the police departments in Detroit and Philadelphia, female officers account for 22 percent of their workforce.
Women are now a large part of law enforcement in contemporary police agencies. These women take the same calls for service as their male counterparts. Men and women police officers face combat on a daily basis across the country. What can American law enforcement share with the military about our women warriors?
Pentagon Makes Changes
Many — particularly feminists and some Democrats — are applauding this change in policy as a victory for equal rights. Have political agendas changed the military for the better? Will women in combat enhance the military’s combat effectiveness? Only time will provide answers.
We in law enforcement have worked with female officers for many years now. We have worked with female officers that are just as tough as some of our male comrades and we have worked with female officers that are not prepared for combat just like some male police officers.
I haven’t had the opportunity to evaluate a female officer in a SWAT environment. After many years in this business, there haven’t been any females that have applied for a position on any team that I have been associated with nor have I trained a female officer in any of the tactical courses that I have instructed.
This is simply coincidental and I am sure one day that opportunity will arise.
When it does, I can assure you she will get a fair shake at her attempt to make any team I command.
A Question of Standards
However, I will not lower the standards of my SWAT team or my tactical courses to accommodate any officer, male or female. That would be an unsafe policy on my part, and unfair to the officers that were held to a higher standard.
The fact is, as a training supervisor I don’t lower any standards for anybody — regardless of the instruction topic. We don’t lower standards for firearms qualifications for female officers, so why should we for SWAT standards?
Lowering the standards for women in combat will be the military’s biggest hurdle. I have spoken with many veteran and current special operations soldiers who are very clear on their position; standards should not be lowered for anybody trying to make a special ops unit.
I have had the opportunity to work with several female officers over the years while working in uniform. I can think of a couple that surely would make the cut for any tactical team if they so desired and I can assure you, these women would not want the standards lowered just so that they can make the cut.
That is the same tenacious mindset that I look for in male SWAT candidates.
I have taken runs, been in chases, and fought with dirt bags with female officers at my side.
I have no concerns over gender in combat, at least from a law enforcement perspective. My concerns come from the ability of any male or female officer to handle whatever situation we may confront.
They must be tactical, exhibit a sense of high situational awareness, and have the ability to deliver a swift ass kicking when necessary. I have worked with male officers who would drive the other way or slow their response while I was in a foot pursuit and fighting a dirt bag.
These male officers have no place in my circle of trust, whereas a few female officers do.
There Are Differences
The military is confronted with other problems that we don’t have to deal with in law enforcement.
A brigade operating in Iraq in 2007 collected some interesting data. They found that women soldiers sustained more casualties and suffered more illnesses than male soldiers and of those women removed from their units for medical reasons, 74 percent were pregnant.
Another study recently revealed that female soldiers have a pregnancy rate 50 percent higher of those women in civilian life. These issues alone will become major problems for already-overburdened unit commanders.
Women police officers are confronted with combat daily in U.S. law enforcement. We don’t have the same issues as the military with long-term soldier deployments. Should tactical teams confronted with female applicants be allowed to participate in the selection process? Should tactical teams lower their selection standards to accommodate female applicants?
I bet you could name a few deadbeat male officers you’d trade for a quality replacement female officer.