Women in Law Enforcement

Women in Law Enforcement:  Yesterday & Today

With the disparity of the number of women versus men in law enforcement, one would think that women’s entry into the field is a fairly modern phenomenon. However, women have actually been in the ranks for more than 100 years.

Alice Stebbins Wells became the first female police officer in the United States, when she joined the Los Angeles Police Department in 1910. She was a minister and a social worker who saw the need for women in police work, and petitioned the City Council to allow her into the ranks. Wells founded the International Association of Women Police in 1915, an organization that continues to thrive today with a mission “to strengthen, unite and raise the profile of women in criminal justice internationally.”

Yet even after a century in the profession, women remain underrepresented in law enforcement. FBI data shows that women only comprised 12 percent of the approximately 700,000 police officers in the United States in 2011. That equates to 84,000 female officers across the nation’s 14,000 police agencies with a mere 219 serving at the chief of police level (National Association of Women Law Enforcement Executives).

Despite these statistics, there is evidence that police departments can double or triple their number of female officers through targeted recruiting strategies that build awareness of policing as a career choice. A major barrier to women choosing a law enforcement path is the lack of role models within their own communities; another is a true understanding of the job and why women are valued within the ranks.

One city that does not have a shortage of female role models is our nation’s capital, Washington D.C., where several prominent law enforcement agencies are led by women. This includes the Drug Enforcement Administration, Secret Service, D.C. Metropolitan Police Department, U.S. Park Police, the FBI’s Washington Field Office, U.S. Marshal’s Service, and Amtrak Police Department.

This level of achievement by women in one geographic center is unprecedented in the history of law enforcement, creating a new benchmark for what is possible. Especially when you consider that when many of these leaders in Washington, D.C. were growing up and considering future careers, female officers were not even allowed to ride in patrol cars with their male counterparts.

If you are interested in moving ahead in the law enforcement profession, a good place to begin your journey to the top is with additional education and training. The criminal justice masters programs available at the University of Cincinnati can help you focus your studies and target your career path. Learn more online now at