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Using Data to Identify and Address Systemic Barriers to the Advancement of Women in Policing 

Ivonne Roman, (ret.) Chief, Co-Founder, The 30x30 Initiative and Maureen "Mo" McGough, Co-Founder, The 30x30 Initiative  | 23 September 2022  |  5 minute read

If it matters, measure it.  

It’s an old adage that rings true today, but police departments often lack the capacity to collect – or more often – analyze data necessary to diagnose problems and evaluate the effectiveness of solutions. We’ve seen first-hand the impact of this limitation in our work to advance women in policing through the 30×30 Initiative. 

We launched 30×30 last March with the goals of:

  • Increasing the representation of women in police recruit classes to 30% by the year 2030
  • Ensuring police department policies and strategies are free of bias and address the unique needs of women officers, and 
  • Ensuring department culture supports the success of women and other under-represented groups 

Our work together began in 2018, when I was a police captain with the Newark, New Jersey Police Department, and Mo was a senior policy advisor with the U.S. Department of Justice. I raised with the Department of Justice (DOJ) that data showed the chronic under-representation of women in policing, but the federal government seemingly had not made a concerted effort to address it. It was a point well-taken, and soon thereafter we joined forces to bring together over one hundred women leaders and officers, researchers, and policymakers to explore what works and what matters to improve the representation of women in policing.

The report from that summit, Women in Policing: Breaking Barriers and Blazing a Path, laid the foundation for what is now the 30×30 Initiative. In just over a year and a half since launch, we’ve partnered with over 200 policing agencies in the U.S. and Canada – from major metropolitan departments like the NYPD and LAPD, to mid-size, small and rural departments, to state agencies, and University departments in almost every state. Recently, the US Marshals Service became the first federal agency to join our work. Through the 30×30 Pledge, these agencies are undertaking a series of evidence-informed actions to improve the experiences and representation of women officers across ranks.  

Our list of strategic partnerships is growing as well, and we’re thrilled to have partnered with Mark43 to host listening sessions across the country, bringing together women officers from participating and neighboring agencies to understand their experiences and priorities for change. We’ve held listening sessions in Baltimore County, MD and Philadelphia, PA,  and are gearing up for additional convenings in Boulder, CO and Waco, TX.  

Through all of this work, data has played a critical role – especially in our development of the 30×30 Pledge and our understanding of challenges and successes of agencies in Pledge implementation.

Data sheds light on what is happening. Data shows women make up only 12% of sworn officers in this country and 3% of police leaders. These numbers have remained stagnant for decades, despite a growing body of research spanning more than fifty years demonstrating the unique value of women officers. And data on the attrition of women applicants in policing in New Jersey is what motivated me to pursue this work in the first place. Obtained through a series of FOIA requests, data demonstrated that 65-80% of women in NJ police academies didn’t complete the training.  And that since 2015, NJ police academies have been failing women at 13x the rate of their male counterparts.  

Data shows women make up only 12% of sworn officers in this country and 3% of police leaders. These numbers have remained stagnant for decades, despite a growing body of research spanning more than fifty years demonstrating the unique value of women officers. 

Data sheds light on why it matters. The scientific research detailing the benefits of women in policing relies on the collection and statistical analyses of data, much of which is collected currently in departments. Research suggests that women officers use less force and less excessive force, and use their discretion to make fewer arrests for minor misdemeanor offenses. They search drivers less often during traffic stops – but when they do conduct a search, they are more likely to find contraband. They are named proportionately less often in citizen complaints and lawsuits, and are perceived by the communities they serve as more trustworthy and compassionate. They fire their service weapon less often. And they are associated with better outcomes for victims of crime – especially victims of sexual assault. Together, this growing body of research suggests that improving the representation and experiences of women in policing is not only a moral imperative, but also a critical aspect of improving public safety outcomes across communities.  

Data sheds light on how to fix it. Data is not only critical in understanding how things are currently, but also in understanding why they are the way they are and what interventions might lead to significant improvements. Through 30×30, we are leveraging data to understand who becomes a police officer, how they are selected, and why segments of communities continue to be underrepresented. Who are we recruiting, who is applying, and who ends up being hired? What are our testing standards, how accurately do they assess a candidate’s ability to be a fair and effective police officer, and how are they impacting various demographic groups differently?  

Data is the key to identifying unintended impacts of current systems, including micro barriers to entry that are unconnected to an individual’s ability to be a fair and effective police officer. For example, researchers at ideas42 partnered with the New York City Fire Department (FDNY), an analogous first responder agency with a history of under-representation of women, to improve data collection and analysis related to their application process. Researchers tracked demographic data at various stages of the application process, and found that simply by removing the $30 application fee, they saw an over 80% increase in women and Black applicants.  

We suspect that policing also has similar micro barriers to those identified through the ideas42 research, but agencies must be equipped to sufficiently collect and analyze this data to identify unnecessary barriers with disparate impacts and revise or remove them as appropriate. Every step of the recruitment process potentially leaves a datapoint, starting with recruitment, background checks, multi-step assessments, academy training, and probationary periods. Agencies must be equipped to collect and analyze these data points to identify unintended and problematic consequences of their current policies, assessments, and systems, as well as measure how well changes to these systems result in necessary improvements.

The Way Forward

Data must be leveraged to focus on problematic areas that hinder the successful integration of women into policing. The mayor or business administrator appoints the chief, and the council sets the budget. Each of these stakeholders require a robust foundation of data on which to base their priorities and build their strategy for improving public safety outcomes across communities. 

In short, data has played a critical role in our establishment of the 30×30 Initiative. We’re not just taking on recruitment practices – we’re seeking to support a monumental shift in culture to create and support departments where women don’t just survive, they thrive. We are bringing together law enforcement, professional associations, researchers, nonprofits, policymakers and community stakeholders and the private sector to build a better, more equitable police profession. Data has illuminated the problems we seek to address, and data will also light the path forward for a better future.

Ivonne Roman has over 25 years of experience in urban policing, having held every rank from police officer to police chief. She founded the Women’s Leadership Academy in 2018 to address the stagnating rates of women in policing in New Jersey, and co-founded the 30×30 Initiative in 2021. 

Maureen McGough is the Chief of Strategic Initiatives at the Policing Project at New York University School of law, where she oversees efforts to establish basic minimum standards for police departments. She was a long-time senior policy advisor at the US Departments of State and Justice, and joined forces with Roman to co-found the 30×30 Initiative.  

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