Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern


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Baby steps: Women find footing in police force

In 1985, female police officers in Evanston were doing the same jobs as men, but they still weren’t considered competent enough to patrol the streets without a male partner.

“We were told by the lieutenant at that time that two women could not ride together,” recalled Evanston Police Department Officer M. Grove.

Today Grove and other women at EPD say much progress has been made in what remains one of the most male-dominated professions in the nation. And experts say women like them have brought special skills to police departments nationwide, many of which are striving for more community-oriented approaches to policing.

Compared with police departments across the country, EPD is fairly typical in its gender breakdown. Out of 161 sworn members, 23 are female, Deputy Chief Joe Bellinosaid.

The department’s numbers are slightly higher than the U.S. average. Nationwide, women account for about 11 percent of police officers, said Margie Moore, director of the National Center for Women and Policing.

At her first police job, in East Peoria, Ill., Cmdr. Susan Trigourea was the very first female officer. There, she said she encountered negative male attitudes, but much of the discrimination was “not to your face.”

“It was still very, very new,” said Trigourea, who in 1984 was also the first police officer to locate serial killer Alton Coleman in Evanston. “There was a handful of men who were supportive, but I’d say the vast majority of them were not.”

When Trigourea moved to EPD in 1981, she found the department more open-minded, even though she was one of only four female officers.

“This was a much more urban environment in that the attitudes were more accepting,” she said. “It still was fairly new. I wasn’t blazing any trails like I was in East Peoria.”

Grove also was one of four female officers when she joined EPD in 1980. Like Trigourea, she said most prejudice against female officers was covert rather than blatant.

“You’d hear comments on the sides sometimes,” Grove said.

These days, women at EPD say male cliques at work and the macho culture of policing still exclude women – but it’s something they often choose to just ignore.

“It’s like a male locker room,” said Sgt. Angela Hearts-Glass, who joined EPD in 1992.

But she explained that she chooses to brush off male comments that might offend other women because they’re part of the natural male bonding that often occurs in the police field.

“You don’t necessarily want to belong to their world,” Hearts-Glass said with a laugh. “I always want them to be comfortable.”

Grove said she had similar feelings.

“I warn women coming on, ‘You will not fit into the clique, so don’t even try,'” she said.

And women in law enforcement know the occupation has always been male-dominated.

“I know that this is a male profession and I’ve known that since I got here,” said Juvenile Detective Erica Floyd, who joined EPD in 1989.

On the flip side, Grove also said women don’t always band together at work like other groups do.

“Women are pretty much trained that we compete against each other for boyfriends or jobs,” she said. “In reality, we shouldn’t.”

FALLING FEMALE INTEREST

In the 1970s, police departments experienced a push to recruit women, said Prof. Dorothy M. Schulz of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York. The decade was a period of high crime across the country, Schulz said, and the federal government encouraged the recruitment of women for law enforcement.

But there is concern that the number of female applicants is dropping.

“In the long term, (it) is going to have an effect on how many women move up in the ranks,” said Vicky Stormo, chief of the University of Washington Police Department and former president of the National Association of Women Law Enforcement Executives. “There’s going to be a gap there.”

She also said many women start careers in law enforcement but then quit. The shift work and irregular hours aren’t conducive to family life.

But the decline applies to men as well as women, Schulz said.

“Right now, police departments are having trouble recruiting and retaining anyone,” she said.

BETTER COMMUNICATION

With many police departments nationwide trying to shift their focus to “community policing,” women can offer special skills, experts say.

“Research has shown that most women use a style of policing that is more communicative and relies less on physical force,” Moore said.

Hearts-Glass agreed.

“(Citizens) welcome a female officer,” she said. “It’s going to involve more consoling. It probably won’t be as physical. Women tend to use a lot more mental (tactics). They know we are going to try to be understanding.”

Officer Lyz Glynn said she thinks people give her as much “attitude” as they would a male officer.

But sometimes when she responds to calls with a male partner, citizens treat her differently.

“I’ve had a lot of people just completely ignore me,” she said. “They would rather talk to the male figure.”

Reach Alison Knezevich at [email protected]

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Baby steps: Women find footing in police force