Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Experiences of Women Police Officers

Introduction and Statement of the Issue

Americans tend to believe that men and women are on an equal playing field. Since the passage of the nineteenth amendment, women have made leaps and bounds in terms of rights, wages, respect, and accomplishments. Women continue to move up in the ranks of the workplace as well. The purpose of our research is to uncover if women in the police force face gender and sexuality issues throughout their careers.  The three women we interviewed all work for prestigious police departments in Athens, Georgia. We will highlight their accomplishments throughout their careers by looking at their individual inspirations and motivations which made them want to enter the police force. Along with their achievements, we will also analyze the mindset which these three strong women must have in order to be successful in what is still a mostly male-dominated field.  We hoped to (and did) uncover the truth about their journey in the force, while assuring these women that they are role models to society because of the positions they hold.

Lieutenant Melanie Rutledge

We first interviewed Lieutenant Melanie Rutledge during our field research. During her twenty three years in the police force, Lt. Rutledge has held titles as a patrol officer and moved through the ranks as a detective, sergeant, worked as a captain for three years, and is now in an administrative position. Her favorite position she held was sergeant because she got to have “interaction with new officers and work as a team.” The men in her life, including her father and her ex-husband, were the ones who encouraged her to join the force.  After learning more about Lt. Rutledge's background, we asked her questions related to gender such as what some advantages were to being a female on the force. She replied by saying there are lots of opportunities for women because her squad generally wants to promote females. She was proud to say she was the first female in the command staff in Athens Clarke County. When asked if gender influences her job on a daily basis, Lt. Rutledge replied that when it comes to her subordinates, gender does not come into play because they all listen to her--it is part of their job. We then shifted our questions to the idea of sexism at her workplace, with the first question being if she has ever felt that she was treated differently in comparison the males around her. She replied that she is held to different standards than men, and that most people have higher expectations for her. Next, we asked her if she feels she is treated differently by civilians because of her gender. She explained that she believes women have a calming effect on the civilians they encounter in comparison to men. So, either people are more cooperative with her, or they give her more trouble because they do not really see her as a threat. We then finally had the pleasure of asking her what her proudest moment has been on the force. She replied that some of her proudest moments included being the first female captain in her department, received the officer of the year award multiple times, and being part of a successful standoff. Lt. Rutledge displayed the confidence of a strong woman who demands respect from the people around her, regardless of gender.

Detective Kim Johnson

The next officer we had the opportunity to talk to was Detective Kim Johnson. Detective Johnson currently works in the internal affairs division, working specifically with officers’ ethics. Her background includes 20 years as an officer on the force and her favorite past position was in the robbery-homicide department. She was drawn to this department after she witnessed a murder; and from that point on, she wanted justice to be served for all future victims. We asked how her gender influences her job and she explained that being a woman is beneficial when working with sex crimes because that field works with mostly female and adolescent victims. These victims are comforted by the presence of a woman because they view them as nurturing, so the victim feel comfortable opening up to allow detectives to attain all the information they need. Shifting our focus to sexism and sexuality, we asked her if she has ever experiences any harassment, sexual or otherwise. She replied yes, that she has been sexually abused verbally. Although this was an upsetting time, she was very happy with the way her superiors dealt with this issue immediately. When asked if she feels she is treated differently by civilians because of her gender, she had a very profound and positive answer. She said no and that she gets the same respect or lack of respect as every officer. If someone does not like her it is because she is an officer, not because she is a female. When asked the important question, what accomplishments she is most proud of, she replied that she was most proud when she had her first homicide case assigned. She got a conviction on that case, and was later named officer of the year. Detective Johnson says her job is self gratifying. She does not do it for the money but rather for the experiences she has had. Detective Johnson has many responsibilities in her position, and the city of Athens should be proud to have someone as level headed and determined as her on the force.

Lieutenant Terri Patterson

      The third and final officer we interviewed was Lieutenant Terri Patterson. Lt. Patterson has been on the force a total of 26 years, the longest of the three officers we spoke to. She has been a Lieutenant for five years and also currently serves as a recruiter for Athens-Clarke county police. When discussing pros and cons of her occupation, she shared that the police force is one of the few organizations who pay men and women equally. She explained how proud she is to work in a sector where females are always on the rise. The topic of gender resurfaced when she shared her story of becoming a police officer. She shared that when she graduated college there was a recession, and she really needed a job. She read an article about the first sheriff deputy female and thought it was a really interesting story. She shared the story with her parents who fully supported her new goal. With so many years of experience, we were curious if Lt. Patterson had noticed any advantages her gender provided while working on the force. She shared an answer similar to Detective Johnson, explaining that women are better at using communication skills on the job. She has had experience calming down victims, especially females, and using her nurturing nature to help the victims feel more comfortable. The discussion shifted to sexism and sexuality when we asked her if she feels she is treated differently because of her gender. She responded that on a scene bystanders would automatically assume that the white male was the supervisor, and would look over her being a black female. However, it was always enjoyable and rewarding for her to walk up and proudly tell the civilian that they were mistaken, and she was in charge. She also shared that as a female it was easier to lure drug dealers because they often do not expect an undercover female cop. Lt. Patterson then shared with us her greatest accomplishments. She revealed perhaps the biggest accomplishment of the three women we talked to; she was the first black female to become Lieutenant and Sergeant in the history of Athens-Clarke county. Lt. Patterson was a wonderful woman to meet. She exemplifies the qualities of a strong woman who worked hard to get to where she is today.   


All three of these women started from the ground and worked their way up. They are now viewed as prestigious officers in their field, and demand the same respect as their male equals. In order to change the way the police force has been viewed in the past, it is important for women to take steps in proving their strengths as individuals and as females, and to gain leadership positions; these women have done just that. These women exemplify what it means to break through the past problems of male privilege and social hierarchy, and force their peers to view them as equal and capable. These women do not let obstacles like gender and sexuality stand in the way of doing their job; some of them in fact use their gender to their advantage. These women are role models in our city and deserve recognition for all they have accomplished.

As a group, we enjoyed doing this project. Each one of us came out pleasantly surprised and having learned something. Maggie and Tracy both agree that being able to actually meet these women made their respect for female police officers grow immensely. “Hearing their stories face to face was very eye opening”, Tracy shared. Through writing the paper, Lindsey and the other members of the group got to see how these women’s experiences connected to outside stories and events. Lindsey said that “reading articles about what is expected of women in the force showed me that police academies are moving in the right direction as far as equality.” Lisa and Chelsea had the opportunity to really lay out all the ideas from the project in a form everyone could see. “I was excited to see what the class thought of the information we gathered in our presentation” Lisa said. Our entire group came away from this project with a little different perspective than we had before.

No comments: