Badges Come in Gold and Silver
Police badges come in gold and silver, not blue or pink. Ever since I can remember I said I was going to be a police officer. Although, I am sure my parents were hoping I might change my mind and become a teacher or a nurse. However, this is why I spent the last fifteen weeks of my college career as an intern for the Brown County Sheriff’s Department.
No, I did not carry a gun and I did not wear a bullet proof vest. I also never arrested anybody. During my time with the Sheriff’s Department I worked in courthouse security, with the investigative division, at the jail, and on patrol totaling 136 hours. Not only did I meet some great officers, I also learned many lessons that I would have never known had I not participated in this internship.
I spent two shifts working with courthouse security. While there, I listened to a few cases and helped transport inmates to and from the courtrooms. I also monitored the cameras and got a better understanding of how the court system functions.
I also completed two shifts with the investigative division for the Brown County Sheriff’s Department. While working with the investigators I created an ID badge and practiced lifting fingerprints with forensics.
Also while working with the investigative division I was able to work closely with a school resource officer (SRO). I found this experience to be beneficial because I never understood exactly what an SRO’s role was and what boundaries they had being a police officer within a school. Finally, I shadowed a few detectives and was able to listen in on a few of their interviews.
After I completed my time with the investigative division and courthouse security I spent four shifts working at the Brown County Jail. While at the jail I was rotated through the various parts and was shown how each pod functions throughout the day. I spent time inside of direct pods and indirect pods.
In a direct pod the inmates are free to move around the area, and are in and out of their cells as they please. There is one guard stationed in the center, at the desk. I will admit, I was nervous the first time I walked into one of the direct pods and sixty males stared and whispered to their peers about me. Picture it like a fishbowl — everybody is surrounding you, watching everything you do. I also had the chance to see how the intake process goes when someone is brought into jail. It was neat to see what actually happens inside of a jail, because I am sure most people picture it to be a dark, dingy place filled with people stuck inside of their cells.
Lastly, I worked with the patrol division for nine shifts. This was by far my favorite division out of them all; after all, this is what I hope to do in the future. While on patrol I was able to experience the differences between patroling the county and patroling the city (I also work for the Green Bay Police Department). The officers gave me the opportunity to use the radar a few times, demonstrated how to write citations, and taught me lessons that will help better me as a person and as a future officer.
While interning for the county I learned a lot of valuable lessons. In fact, I used these ideas and lessons for the topic of my final paper and presentation in my senior seminar course, too. One thing I noticed after working with the Sheriff’s Department is the lack of female officers. Most of my shifts I saw the same deputies, due to my shift being the same day each week. I believe while I was on patrol for the department I only saw one female officer, the rest were males. I then began to do some research as to why more females are not involved in law enforcement and looked at how many sworn female officers there are.
When comparing police departments there are three sizes that researchers use to classify the size of a local police department. A small department refers to a department with one to ten officers. Medium police departments contain between eleven and one hundred officers, and large departments have more than 100 officers employed (Langton, 2).
This chart from the Bureau of Justice Statistics illustrates approximately how many females there are within local police departments, according to size, as well as within sheriff’s departments. In 2007, approximately five percent of police officers employed by a small, local police department were females. However, at a large, local police department women represented about fourteen percent of the police officers employed (Langton, 2). Although females do not dominate the police force, there has been an increase over the last twenty years. Police departments have been hiring more and more females than in the past.
Despite the masculinity that surrounds law enforcement women have been involved with police departments since 1905. In 1905 Lola Baldwin became the first sworn-in female police officer for the Portland Police Department in Oregon. Subsequent to this event, in 1968, the first female police officer started working on patrol. During this year, both Betty Blankenship and Elizabeth Coffal became patrol officers for the Indianapolis police department. Not too long after this, Penny Harrington became the first female Chief of Police leading the Portland Oregon Police Department. Finally, in 1994, the first African American Chief of Police, Beverly J. Harvard, took her position in Atlanta (Natl. Center for Women). Although it did not happen overnight we can see how women have slowly become more involved with law enforcement agencies.
After looking at these statistics I began to question why there are not already many more females involved in law enforcement. Jon Felperin, an educator and police academy instructor, tries to answer this question in his article titled, “Women in Law Enforcement: Two Steps Forward, Three Steps Back.” Felperin says, “Most women never even consider a career in law enforcement to begin with, due to their misunderstanding of the nature of the job, and the aggressive and authoritarian images portrayed in the media.” Women face endless discrimination as a female in law enforcement and often do not find themselves advancing within the ranks of their departments. They are hesitant to gain a leadership role and often find themselves being harassed because of their gender.
Continuing with this idea, I have heard that some people believe women are not emotionally strong enough to handle being a police officer. People often feel as though women cannot handle a dangerous situation and take the necessary actions within seconds. Susan Martin, an author dedicated to writing about policewomen says, “Police work involves extensive emotional labor” (Martin, 112). She continues her description of police work by saying, “To be effective, officers must control both their own feelings and the emotional displays of citizens” (Martin, 112). Martin examines how a person’s emotions can contribute to the successes and/or failures that a person might experience as a police officer, or in any career. She explains that a person working directly with the public must be able to control him or herself emotionally. She quotes Steinberg and Figart’s observations that state, “Both male and female jobs incorporate similar ranges and degrees of emotional labor. This supports the argument that the gender of the job can influence our perceptions of job content to some extent independently of actual job content” (Martin, 114). Meaning that, despite what the actual job entails we allow for our perceptions of a career to influence who we believe should hold that position. For instance, we see violence, danger, and crime as a part a police officer’s duties. Therefore, as a society we are socially constructed to be opposed to women becoming police officers.
Another reason that people oppose the idea of having female officers is because the public believes that a female officer does not have the ability to demonstrate power over the citizens she would need interact with. There is also a fear that criminals may not take a female police officer seriously. Tom Tyler, wrote an article titled, “Enhancing Police Legitimacy.” In this article he discusses how the public needs to cooperate with police officers, which in return will motivate officers more. He says, “…the ability to issue commands that will be obeyed did not rest solely on the possession or ability to deploy power. In addition, there were rules and authorities that people would voluntarily obey” (Tyler, 87). By saying this, Tyler explains that unless the public is willing to obey by the law the legitimacy of the police will be lacking. When the police are able to deploy their power onto those that disobey the law and have the support from those that do, there will be an equal balance granting the acceptance and motivation for a police officer’s actions.
Although women are not equally represented amongst law enforcement agencies there has been a progression in the last twenty years. As an intern for the Brown County Sheriff’s Department I witnessed how challenging the job can be and I know through family members, and my position with the Green Bay Police Department how stressful it can get at times. I understand why both men and women may not be interested in law enforcement and I fully understand the risks that are associated with being a police officer. However, this internship was one of the most exciting and greatest learning experiences of my college career. If I could go back and do it again, I would be an intern every semester. Police officers fulfill a challenging, yet rewarding position and I fully intend to become a police officer in the near future.
Felperin, Jon. "Women in Law Enforcement: Two Steps Forward, Three Steps Back." 17 May 2004. Web. 9 Apr. 2015.
Langton, Lynn. “Women in Law Enforcement, 1987–2008.” Bureau of Justice Statistics. 1 June 2010. Web. 7 Apr. 2015.
— — — . “Feminist Majority Foundation.” Feminist Majority Foundation. Web. 13 May 2015. http://womenandpolicing.com/history/index.asp
Martin, Susan. Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science Vol. 561, Emotional Labor in the Service Economy (Jan., 1999), pp. 111–126
Tyler, Tom R. Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science Vol. 593, To Better Serve and Protect: Improving Police Practices (May, 2004) , pp. 84–99