Women in Law Enforcement Careers Job & Salary Information, Resources, and Expert Advice

Though there is still much to be done to improve the numbers of women among the ranks of law enforcement – especially those in executive positions – the future is bright. Over the past several decades, women have proven themselves in a wide variety of positions that were once reserved for men, and more departments across the nation are seeing the value in hiring female law enforcement officers. This guide is for any woman who has considered making a career in the world of law enforcement. It includes information on what the job is like right now, what they can expect in the future and resources to help them get there. We’ll even explore some positions in law enforcement that aren’t necessarily as visible as those in uniform.

Women in Law Enforcement Now

Law enforcement has always suffered from a lack of females among the ranks. The U.S. Department of Justice reports that in the 1970s, women accounted for only about 2 percent of sworn officers, and most of those held clerical positions. Over the past 40 years, women have forged strongly ahead in many professions, but in law enforcement they are still quite the minority; according to Community Policing Dispatch, in 2013 only about 13 percent of sworn law enforcement officers were women.

Why are there so few women in this important profession? Some cite the “brass ceiling” that seems to prevent women from reaching executive positions. Others mention the rampant harassment and resentment from male officers, especially against those women who are in supervisory positions. There is also the fact of long, grueling hours in some positions, which doesn’t dovetail well with trying to raise a family.

Recognizing the lack of women on the force, many departments and organizations – including the U.S. government – are making a point of seeking out women for positions that were traditionally seen as a “man’s job.” Former FBI Director James Comey went so far as to call the lack of women in the Federal Bureau of Investigation a “crisis” that could undermine investigations and put the FBI out of touch with the community.

As a result, the FBI is committed to improving bringing the number of women in the Bureau up to at least 33 percent in the coming years – a nice improvement over the current 20 percent serving today. Smaller departments all across the nation are taking the same initiative, and women are increasingly served by powerful mentors who can help them move into higher position in the world of law enforcement.

Why Women are Needed in Law Enforcement

There are numerous reasons why women are integral to the smooth and capable operation of a police department or any other law enforcement agency.

  • Conflict Resolution Approach

    Numerous studies conducted over the past several decades have shown there are differences in the way women and men communicate in policing and in general. In law enforcement, women have been shown to be less reliant on physical force and more reliant on communication skills. These differences are important to acknowledge and embrace when it comes to talking down a suspect, easing tensions in an argument or otherwise keeping potential dire situations from escalating. In addition, the listening skills that many women possess help in policing, because it provides them with the opportunity to get the root of issues and problems. Studies have also shown that out in the field, women tend to be diplomatic, open to the idea of compromise, and innovative in their search for solutions that benefit not only police, but the citizens they are sworn to protect and serve.

  • Comfort of Citizens

    Most members of the community are accustomed to seeing male police officers; however, some of them might respond much more favorably to a female. This is especially true of women who have been exposed to domestic violence or rape, or young children who have been victimized in some way – the presence of a woman in uniform can make the entire process of dealing with the police much less intimidating for them.

  • Healthier Police Departments

    With police departments facing deep public scrutiny in the wake of claims of police brutality and unjustified shootings, women in law enforcement are valuable assets. Studies dating all the way back to the 1970s show that women are more effective to responding to calls concerning violence against other women, they act less aggressively than their male counterparts, and only 5 percent of allegations of excessive force are lodged against female officers, with only 2 percent of those allegations sustained. Male officers are more than eight times as likely to have an excessive force complaint filed against them, according to analysis by the National Center for Women and Policing, and the resulting lawsuits are a financial hit for the department – which, in many cases, is already strapped for cash. With more female officers at the forefront, it’s hoped that the well-being of police departments can improve.

3 Reasons Women are Underrepresented in Law Enforcement

Poorly conceived recruiting tactics

How?

Emphasizing the adrenaline rush of policing in recruiting: car chases, busting down doors, etc.

The Fix

The truth is at least 80 percent of police work is nonviolent, service related, and focused on problem solving—the sort of work that may appeal more heavily to women recruits. Recruiting efforts should reflect this reality more accurately.

Unbalanced hiring practices

How?

Physical testing that emphasizes upper body strength to the detriment of other positive physical and mental attributes.

The Fix

While physical fitness is important in police work, physical strength is not a predictor of an officer’s ability to handle dangerous situations. Testing should focus on applicant’s ability to defuse violent situations and maintain calm.

Hostile work environments

How?

In a male-dominated work force, women face sexual harassment and unfavorable attitudes regarding a woman’s ability to police.

The Fix

Training for existing officers, better screening for recruits who may harbor these attitudes, disseminating information to the workforce showing favorable data regarding women in law enforcement.

Source: Washington Post

Law Enforcement Careers for Women

Though some women in law enforcement might choose to work as police officers or detectives, there are many more careers in the world of law enforcement that might prove enticing. Here are some of the positions that need more women among the ranks, along with salary and job outlook information from the Bureau of Labor Statistics:

  • Patrol officers are those law enforcement officials most commonly known by the public. They handle patrols in their assigned areas, which might include everything from maintaining a simple police presence to responding to emergency calls to assisting with larger-scale issues, such as a crime scene. They might conduct searches and perform arrests as warranted. Some might work in special divisions, such as narcotics, and others might have specialized patrols, such as those who use horses, bikes or motorcycles to patrol small, more congested areas.

    • Salary

      $61,050 (May 2017 average)

    • Education Requirements

      High school diploma or equivalent is the minimum to enter on-the-job training; those who want to move up in the ranks or join federal enforcement agencies will need a bachelor’s degree or higher.

    • Common Traits

      Excellent communication and leadership skills, physical strength and stamina, empathy, good judgment and perceptiveness

    • Job outlook

      Growing by 7% from 2016 to 2026

  • These law enforcement officers work to figure out what happened in a particular crime and who the perpetrators were. Their work includes securing and collecting evidence from crime scenes and related areas, writing reports, examining records, interviewing suspects, participating in arrests and appearing in court in relation to a variety of cases under their purview. They might work in one particular department, such as homicide or fraud.

    • Salary

      $79,970 (May 2017 average)

    • Education Requirements

      High school diploma or equivalent is the minimum; some places require a bachelor’s degree. Detectives often work their way up from patrol officers or similar positions.

    • Common Traits

      Great communication skills in both speaking and writing, interview skills, perceptiveness and good judgment, solid organizational skills

    • Job outlook

      Growing by 5% from 2016 to 2026

  • Also known as private detectives, private investigators work to find information about a variety of matters, including legal, personal and financial. Their work might require them to work in the field, conducting interviews and performing surveillance, or they might work in an office, conducting much of their research via phone or computer. They might work unusual or long hours, depending upon the particular case. Some might specialize in a particular area, such as finding missing persons or conducting in-depth background checks.

    • Salary

      $50,700 (May 2017 average)

    • Education Requirements

      High school diploma or equivalent is required; much of the work is learned through on-the-job training. Most states require private investigators to be licensed.

    • Common Traits

      Very close attention to detail, patients, resourcefulness, persistence, good decision-making skills and excellent communication and inquisitiveness.

    • Job Growth

      Growing by 11 percent from 2016 to 2026.

  • Sometimes called community supervision officers, these professionals work closely with the court system to supervise those who have been placed on probation. Their duties include meeting frequently with the probationer, helping them find the proper rehabilitation services, writing reports that detail how well their treatment plans are working, and helping ensure the probationer is not a danger to themselves or others. They might also oversee drug testing, ensure psychological counseling, and help track those under electronic monitoring. A probation officer usually chooses to work exclusively with either adults or juveniles.

    • Salary

      $51,410 (May 2017 average)

    • Education Requirements

      Though requirements vary by jurisdiction, most positions require a bachelor’s degree, valid driver’s license, and passing competency exams, drug testing and a background check.

    • Common Traits

      Strong critical thinking and decision-making skills, excellent written and verbal communication, strong organizational skills and significant emotional stability

    • Job Growth

      Growing by 6 percent from 2016 to 2026

  • When working at crime scenes, forensic science technicians analyze crime scenes and properly collect evidence, document everything through written word, photographs and sketches, record their observations, catalog and preserve evidence, and sometimes reconstruct crime scenes to figure out what happened. In a laboratory, forensic science technicians use high-tech equipment to analyze evidence, explore possible links between suspects and the crime scene, consult with experts in specialized fields and report their findings to the appropriate individuals.

    • Salary

      $57,850 (May 2017 average)

    • Education Requirements

      A minimum of a bachelor’s degree in a field of natural science is required; some jobs have higher requirements. On the job training is typical.

    • Common Traits

      Very close attention to detail, strong math and science skills, the ability to think critically and solve problems, and strong verbal and written communication skills

    • Job Growth

      17 percent growth from 2016 to 2026

  • Also known as security officers, security guards protect property, enforce rules and deter criminal activity from occurring on that property. Some might work in an office where they are assigned to monitor a wealth of surveillance equipment; others might walk around a property and look for any signs of problems. They might control building or ground access, screen those who want access to a particular facility, write reports, conduct security checks as needed and respond to emergencies. Some might even work “undercover” as a plainclothes guard on a particular type of property, such as a shopping mall, to capture evidence of criminal activity.

    • Salary

      $26,900 (May 2017 average)

    • Education Requirements

      High school diploma or equivalent. Most states require registration, especially if carrying a firearm while on the job.

    • Common Traits

      Excellent observation skills, patience with long shifts, good judgment and quick thinking, good communication skills and the ability to stay calm in an emergency situation

    • Job Growth

      Growth of 6 percent from 2016 to 2026

  • When natural disasters or other emergencies affect a wide swath of the community, emergency management directors swing into action. Their work consists of a huge variety of moving parts, including assessing hazards and planning responses, organizing training programs for emergency personnel, meeting with public officials, managing resources available to them, reviewing emergency plans, maintaining facilities and equipment necessary for emergency operations, and putting it all into work when a disaster or other emergency arises.

    • Salary

      $72,760 (May 2017 average)

    • Education Requirements

      A bachelor’s degree is the minimum, as well as years of experience in disaster planning, emergency response or public administration

    • Common Traits

      Strong leadership skills, the ability to make quick decisions, critical thinking, strong interpersonal skills and excellent communication, especially in a tense and fast-moving situation.

    • Job Growth

      8 percent growth from 2016 to 2026

  • Examining buildings to ensure they are up to fire safety codes is one of the important jobs of the fire inspector. Fire inspectors search for fire hazards, tests fire mitigation equipment and installations, review and create emergency evacuation plans, seek out infractions of the fire code (particularly in public buildings) and review building plans with developers. They also work to educate the public about fire safety, maintain files related to fire incidents, and monitor controlled burns, among other duties that keep the public as safe as possible.

    • Salary

      $56,670 (May 2017 average)

    • Education Requirements

      Though some employers prefer those who have earned an associate or bachelor’s degree, experience as a firefighter or EMT is also a good way to get a foot in the door.

    • Common Traits

      Communication and critical thinking skills are a must, especially in a fire emergency; they must also pay close attention to detail and have the physical strength and stamina to handle moving debris at a fire scene if necessary.

    • Job Growth

      Growth of 10% from 2016 to 2026.

  • These law enforcement officials enforce the laws surrounding hunting, fishing and recreational areas. In addition to their typical patrol of various hunting and fishing areas, they might also investigate reporting incidents, conduct search and rescue operations, and educate the public on a variety of laws and regulations surrounding wildlife and the world’s natural, wild areas. In smaller areas, a single fish and game warden might handle everything; in larger areas, there could be many wardens and park rangers working together to keep the area, and everyone in it, safe and secure.

    • Salary

      $56,410 (May 2017 average)

    • Education Requirements

      In most cases, applicants must have a bachelor’s degree.

    • Common Traits

      Excellent speaking skills, reading comprehension, good judgment and decision-making, critical thinking, the ability to actively listen to others, and the ability to monitor a situation closely in order to make decisions quickly

    • Job Growth

      Up to 4 percent growth from 2016 to 2026

From the Expert

Renay Brown has over 20 years in the human services industry. For three years she worked with families in crisis as a foster care worker and then as an intake foster care worker. She worked in the prison system as a corrections officer and a supervisor. Renay then moved to field operations, where for almost 17 years she worked as a parole officer. She helped develop community service opportunities and job development programs for offenders and worked closely with other law enforcement agencies, drug rehabilitation centers and homeless shelters.

Why did you decide to go into law enforcement?

Growing up I always was a bit of a tomboy. I chased and wrestled with boys. I was physically stronger than most boys. I always had an innate sense even as a child that I would work with the criminal justice system. I grew up in the inner city of Detroit, Michigan. I would watch the police drive down the street with a sense of awe and I would watch the news about police stories and I always rooted for the police.

What was your journey into law enforcement like?

I applied for the Detroit Police Department and a neighboring county’s sheriff’s department. I passed both departments written and physical exams. I had a few more interviews and even a psychological exam with the county. After that interview I never heard from the county again, I often wondered what happened to that job.

I applied for the Department of Corrections. I passed the written test, oral interview and the physical exam. I decided to turn down the position because I was a single mom and needed to figure out the arrangements for child care because I would have to leave for six weeks for training. One year later I repeated the process and accepted the position.

What was the best part of being in law enforcement -- and the worst part?

The best part of working in law enforcement is seeing someone in the community that you have helped and they tell you thank you. They tell you that you helped them to turn their life around and that you have deposited something positive in their life. They inform you that because of you they are now productive members of society.

The worst part of working in law enforcement is seeing the senseless deaths, when people die way too early. Sometimes you see people that you thought had their life all together, they are working respectable jobs and they are contributing members of society, yet they murder their own child. The untimely deaths are the worst part of the job.

What advice would you give to women who want to work in law enforcement?

Woman who have self-confidence and who can lead as well as follow orders make good law enforcement officers. Women who can handle their emotions and who are not easily upset will make great candidates in law enforcement. She must have the ability to wear two uniforms, the one at work and the one at home. She must be able to leave her work at work and know that her family and friends may not always understand her. Some of her family and friends may see her as cold. That is because often she will see or hear things that she has never thought she’d ever see or experience.

Women in Law Enforcement Spotlight

Women who are curious about law enforcement might see the low numbers of female officers and become discouraged. That’s why it’s important to look to those female trailblazers who have made the world a better place through their service to law enforcement. Here are just a few.

Vera Bumpers

Growing up during a time when segregation was the norm in the south, Vera Bumpers knew the seething pain of injustice – and the helplessness of being able to do little about it. After earning her master’s degree, Bumpers took on the challenge of the FBI, graduating from the FBI National Academy in Quantico, Virginia. A fellow classmate – a man – encouraged her to come back to Texas, where she was immediately hired by the Houston Police Department. After 32 years and holding every rank in the department, Bumpers was named the first female chief – and the first African-American chief – of the Houston Metro Police Department.

Valerie Cunningham

Valerie Cunningham has plenty of experience under her belt. A graduate of the 240th session of the FBI National Academy and the 48th session of the Senior Management Institute for Police, she quickly rose through the ranks of the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department. Her experience touched on work in uniformed patrol, narcotics, homeland security, traffic, special events planning and more. She holds the distinction of being only one of five women to serve as a motorcycle officer. She has served as deputy chief of patrol operations and the administration division, and she served as interim chief of Police from 2016-2017. In 2018 she became the president of the National Association of Women Law Enforcement Executives (NAWLEE).

Amy Hess

Nicknamed the “rocket scientist” because she holds a degree in aeronautical and astronautical engineering from Purdue, Amy Hess has been in the FBI since she started as a special agent in 1991. She’s served in many capacities since then, including a deployment to oversee the FBI counterterrorism division in Afghanistan and work as the Executive Assistant Director over the FBI’s Science and Technology Branch. In 2016, she was appointed as Special Agent in Charge of the Louisville Field Office, making her responsible for all FBI activity in the state of Kentucky.

Organizations Advocating for Women in Law Enforcement

Everyone needs a strong advocate. These organizations are on the front lines of the law enforcement world, fighting to bring more women into the ranks.

  • International Association of Women Police

    Established in 1915, the IAWP aims to strengthen, unite and raise the capacity of women in law enforcement on an international scale. Numerous programs, training sessions and awards are presented by IAWP in the hopes of creating and sustaining new opportunities for female law enforcement officers.

  • Mid-Atlantic Association of Women in Law Enforcement

    This professional organization is designed for female law enforcement officials living and working in Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland, Virginia and Washington D.C. Opportunities include training sessions, conferences, scholarship opportunities and awards, among others.

  • National Association of Women Law Enforcement Executives

    A highly visible organization, NAWLEE addresses the unique needs of women in executive positions of law enforcement. They do this through conferences, training seminars, providing forums for discussion and much more.

  • National Center for Women and Policing

    A division of the Feminist Majority Foundation, the NCWP promotes increasing the ranks of women in law enforcement as a way to curtail police brutality and excessive force, provide better response to violence against women and enhance or improve community policing reforms. The NCWP provides up-to-date and compelling research, as well as pertinent materials for departments to use in recruitment of women.

  • National Organization of Black Women in Law Enforcement

    NOBWLE is dedicated to improving the numbers of women in law enforcement, especially women of color. Chapters across the nation focus on training events, community service opportunities and more.

  • Same Shield

    Dedicated to women in all areas of law enforcement, this site provides a wealth of information, including historical accounts of women in law enforcement, information on military, homeland security and international options for work, current news for women in the field and much more.

  • Women in Federal Law Enforcement

    Designed to empower women in federal law enforcement positions, WIFLE also works to address the reasons women are underrepresented in the field. Members can take advantage of conferences, immersive training sessions, seminars and scholarship opportunities.

  • Women’s Leadership Institute

    A division of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the Institute is a rigorous training program for women rising through the ranks at local, state and federal levels of law enforcement. Sessions occur roughly once per month.