Females on the Force

Women in Pinal County law enforcement, from left, include CGPD aide Christian Western, Eloy police Officer Calvina Singleton, CGPD Sgt. Onishia Noland, CGPD Officer Tisa Ellsworth, CGPD aide Sabrina Liban and CGPD Officer Hannah Fox.

On Sunday we published a three-story package focusing on the diversity, or lack of it, among law enforcement agencies in Pinal County and Arizona.

And some of the responses were disturbing.

Some readers commenting on social media expressed the opinion that diversity doesn’t matter. Even Casa Grande Police Chief Mark McCrory reflected this viewpoint when he said his department only tries to hire the best applicants. And the largest law enforcement agency, the Pinal County Sheriff’s Office, doesn’t even keep track of the demographics of its staff.

I learned long ago that having a newsroom staff that reflected the community it serves through ethnicity and gender wasn’t a matter of political correctness. It made good business sense by allowing us to do our jobs better.

A major part of news reporting is getting people to talk to you. And oftentimes people feel more comfortable talking to people who are like them.

You can say that shouldn’t matter, but it does.

It is the same with law enforcement, especially when it comes to gender.

Domestic violence is a big problem in Pinal County and is often the root source of police shootings, or even violence against officers. Every police officer will tell you the most dangerous calls are domestic violence ones. Officers and prosecutors also say they are most frustrated by the fact many victims refuse to press charges against the perpetrators, or even talk to officers about the situation.

Most of these victims are women.

More than 10 million Americans are victims of physical violence by an intimate partner every year, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. A 2014 Bureau of Justice Statistics survey reported that domestic violence accounts for more than 20 percent of all violent crimes.

One way to help reduce crimes against women is to hire more female officers, according to Deborah Friedl, vice president of the International Association of Women Police Officers.

The Casa Grande Police Department has only four women on its force. PCSO has 11, but that only accounts for 7 percent of the force.

According to a 2016 article in The Atlantic, research shows that the best way to reduce rates of violence against women is to hire more women officers.

Female officers are less authoritarian, less reliant on physical force and more effective at defusing violent confrontations, writes Katherine Spillar, director of the National Center for Women and Policing, in a 2015 article in the Washington Post.

“Women bring a different skill set to the job,” Eloy Officer Calvina Singleton told reporter Heather Smathers for our stories. “They (suspects) react different to women,” noting that as a woman she’s not naturally testing their bravado.

Women officers have been shown to be more effective specifically in domestic violence scenarios. Results from a 2016 report, which used crime-victimization data to examine U.S. policing between the late 1970s and early 1990s, suggest women may be more comfortable reporting domestic violence to female officers.

According to the report, published by the University of Virginia, areas with higher female representation experienced higher rates of reporting domestic violence. Authors claim more reporting helped reduce rates of repeated domestic violence and contributed to a decline of nonfatal domestic abuse and intimate partner homicide.

Studies also show that female officers may take reports of domestic violence more seriously. A 2017 study titled “The Victims’ View: Domestic Violence and Police Response” found that women officers were less likely than male officers to ignore victims who made repeated calls to the police over time.

The Eloy Police Department has the most female officers in the county, accounting for 28 percent of the force.

The fact CGPD only has four female officers is reflected in the chief’s attitude. You can’t just wait for qualified females to apply, you must recruit and market to women.

Recently I was at LA Fitness during my lunch hour, and the Arizona Department of Corrections had an officer there with a table of material talking to people about a career as a corrections officer. Most of the people in the gym at that time were women.

The DOC gets it. You must go out and find the females who may be qualified and inclined to pursue a career in law enforcement and encourage them to do so. Incentives should be offered, such as education reimbursements, child care subsidies or even on-site child care facilities.

Overall, women account for only 10 percent of the law enforcement agencies that provided data to Heather for her stories. That is a dismal record. It also is a reflection of laziness on the part of the administrations.

If the law enforcement agencies are serious about reducing domestic violence and its escalating circumstances, then they need to do something about the gender makeup of their forces.

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Andy Howell is assistant managing editor. He can be reached at 423-8614 or ahowell@pinalcentral.com.

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