'Up the chain of command'
By Stephanie Sanchez
El Paso Times
EL PASO, Texas — When Officer Yvette Soto joined the El Paso Police Department, only a few women were on the force, and no women were in high ranks.
Fourteen years later, women make up only 11 percent of the department.
"You think there is a handful (of women) now, but there was literally a handful back then," Soto said. "We've come a long way, but I just wish we could come further."
In the past 10 years, the percentage of women officers in the El Paso department has increased from 8 percent to 11 percent of 1,097 officers. To recruit more women, the department is having its first Women in Law Enforcement Recruiting Expo today at the El Paso County Coliseum, 4100 E. Paisano.
Soto, 36, who said she wanted to be a police officer from the first time she got into her cousin's New Mexico State Police trooper patrol car at the age of 3, said the percentage of women is low because stigmas are attached to the job.
"It is not themselves holding them back. It is everybody else," she said. "People think it is a dangerous job, that it is scary."
Nationally in 2001, 12.7 percent of law enforcement jobs were held by women, according to the National Center for Women and Policing. In 1908 in Portland, Ore., Lola Baldwin was the first woman hired by a U.S. municipality to carry out regular law enforcement duties, according to an article in The Police Chief, a magazine dedicated to law enforcement.
Soto said she learned that women in the field were not always treated equally to men when she talked to a woman who was a police patrol officer in the late 1960s.
"She was telling us stories about the department having women only in the office," Soto said. "They used to wear skirts. They used to have different uniforms than the men's uniforms. But now our equipment is the same."
Women officers perform the same duties as men, and women have the same opportunities to move up in rank, she said.
"A long time ago, you would never see a woman up there, but now we have our Assistant Chief Diana Kirk," she said. "Now you are seeing the women climbing up the chain of command, and it is inspiring. It makes us want to try also."
Kirk, who is the highest-ranking female officer in the El Paso department, said that when she graduated from the police academy, no women were in supervisory positions.
"Chief (Richard) Wiles recognizes that women need to be in all these positions," she said. "So other women see us in these positions, and they think they can do it, too."
But few women are in the law enforcement because it is seen as a men's job, she said.
"It has always been a very male-dominant job field," she said. "Also, I personally think women may feel that they may not be able to pass the physical part of the exam."
The exam is equally hard for men and women, and about half of those of both sexes who take the exam will not pass, said Kirk, who has been with the department 22 years.
Kirk said she hopes 50 percent of the January 2008 class will be women.
Wiles said that women "play an important role in policing in our community, and we need to do everything we can to increase our ranks of females and to increase the diversity in this department."
He said that ideally, the percentage of women in the department should reflect the percentage of women in the population.
"I've always thought that we should be reflective of the community we serve, and females typically make up about 50 percent" of the population, he said. "I think that would be the goal."
Breakdown of officers at the El Paso Police Department:
Total: 970 men, 127 women.
Chief: One position, held by man.
Assistant chief: Woman holds one position.
Deputy chief: No women.
Commanders: No women.
Lieutenants: Four women.
Sergeants: 12 women.
Detectives: 31 women.
Officers: 79 women.
Breakdown of officers at the El Paso County Sheriff's Office:
Total: 186 men, 21 women.
Sheriff: One position, held by man.
Chief deputy: One position, held by man.
Assistant chief deputy: One position held by woman.
Commander: No women.
Lieutenant deputy: No women.
Lieutenant jailer: No women.
Sergeant deputy: No women.
Sergeant jailer: Five women.
Detective deputy: Six women.
Floor-control jailer: Nine women.
Copyright 2007 The El Paso Times
More women seeking places on El Paso police force