For two decades, amid the rise of women to governor’s mansions, military leadership and even the vice presidency, the percentage of women among the ranks of state police officers has hardly budged: A Stateline analysis finds that nationally, just 7% of sworn state troopers are female.
That’s a tiny gain from 2000, when the average female makeup of state police troopers was 6%, according to a 50-state census by the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics.
Overall, women make up less than 13% of full-time police officers in the United States.
As a national reckoning over law enforcement practices unfolds, research shows that women are less likely to use force, are named in fewer complaints and get better outcomes for some victims. Some state agencies are looking to recruit more women to change not only who is doing the policing, but also how their departments police.
“Over the past year I’ve seen a call for a different type of policing. We’ve seen a call for more communication, more empathy,” said Nikki Smith-Kea, an expert on gender equity in policing currently doing a fellowship with the Philadelphia Police Department. “As a profession, are we willing to recognize that having a difference in how we look might have a difference in how we operate?”
Policing experts attribute the low rate of women overall to reasons that include stereotypes about the profession, the demands of training, patterns of sexism and harassment, and the perpetual lack of women to serve as mentors.
All states except for Hawaii have a state policing force, often classified as a highway patrol. In some states, the department is primarily responsible for traffic stops. In others, the agencies also handle criminal cases from all over the state or provide backup to local agencies.
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