According to Commander Gwen Elliot, the Pittsburgh Police Force, one of the most diverse law enforcement teams in the United States, is changing as a result of a 1991 decision striking down an affirmative action program that took effect in 1976. Before the program took effect, no women in blue served Pittsburgh, but now one in four officers on the Force is female, compared to about one in ten nationwide. But without the court-ordered program, over 90 % of officers newly hired have been male.
Elliot serves on the advisory board of the National Center for Women & Policing (NCWP), a project of FMF working toward parity in the nation’s law enforcement agencies. Its second annual survey on the status of women in the largest agencies, Equality Denied: The Status of Women in Policing: 1998, reveals that only 13.8% of all sworn officers are female. One factor contributing to this inequality is the fact that many law enforcement offices, including Pittsburgh’s Force, award bonus points on entry tests to candidates with military experience. With women currently representing only 13.7% of active military personnel, and discrimination against women within the military, this means for fewer women veteran candidates.
NCWP’s report does demonstrate areas of progress: affirmative action programs work to integrate law enforcement agencies. Equality Denied shows that eight of the ten municipal agencies with the highest percentage increase in sworn women officers have some court-ordered affirmative action program in place.