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What Changes As Women Rise Through Law Enforcement's Ranks


This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan, in Washington. Last week, President Obama named Julia Pierson as the head of the Secret Service. She's the first female director in the agency's history. There's also at least one woman on the short list to be next head of the FBI. Both those federal agencies have long been male bastions, but maybe no more so than many police departments around the country, and there, too, females have broken through the brass ceiling.

Chiefs of police from Tampa and Washington, D.C. join us in just a bit. And we want to hear from cops today: What changes as women become more integrated in the force? Give us a call, tell us your story: 800-989-8255. Email: talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation at our website. That's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Later in the program, the collapse of honeybee colonies gets worse. But first Jane Castor, chief of police in the city of Tampa joins us from our member station there, WUSF. She's been on the Tampa police force for 29 years. Chief Castor, good to have you on TALK OF THE NATION today.

CHIEF JANE CASTOR: Well, thank you very much. It's my pleasure.

CONAN: And I wanted to ask you: What went through your head as you were being sworn in as chief, what, three and a half years ago?

CASTOR: Well, a lot of nervousness, obviously, for taking over an agency of that size and the responsibility associated with it. But I just couldn't have been more honored. I believe we have the greatest police department in the nation. So it's quite an honor for me to be named as the head.

CONAN: And obviously a trailblazer.

CASTOR: Well, you know, people say that, but I don't think so. I think that there were many women that went before me that were the true trailblazers, the first women to enter into law enforcement, and they basically set the stage so that myself and others that had large agencies could be given that opportunity. So I really - I mean, being the first female chief obviously is an accomplishment, but I credit those individuals that went before me.

CONAN: Did you have a hard time?

CASTOR: No, you know, I really didn't, but I'm - you know, I grew up, been basically surrounded by boys in mostly male-dominated - I was an athlete. I went to college on an athletic scholarship, and just have always had the ability to get along well with others, work well with others in different environments. So I really didn't have a rough time coming up through the department.

CONAN: But were there people - you worked in, I think, every division of the police department before you were named chief. As you went into narcotics or various other parts of the - homicide, did people say, you know, you're going to have a hard time? You can't understand this.

CASTOR: Right. There are individuals like that, and that's one of the things that I tell women who are promoted, that no matter how qualified you are or how much experience you have in that particular position, people will say that you were promoted - in part, if not fully - because you're a woman. And I tell them, you know, just be quiet and go about proving them wrong every day through your actions, and you'll win over your detractors eventually.

CONAN: And I - I know that the analogies to popular television programs are not always apt. I have to ask you: Did you see "Prime Suspect," and did her experiences as the new chief of detectives ever mirror yours?

CASTOR: Well, I hate to let you down, but I don't watch television. So, you know, there's only so many hours in the day...

CONAN: Probably a good idea.

CASTOR: I know, and I've never seen - the only shows that I watch are the ones that my kids watch. So I've never seen "Prime Suspect."

CONAN: I'm not sure SpongeBob has had that problem.

CASTOR: Right, right. Yeah.

CONAN: Well, that's another question, though. People say bringing up kids can be a trial for police officers who are, of course, switched around on different shifts and, of course, different places around town.

CASTOR: It is true, and I think now that in this day and age, men take a more active part in raising children from birth on, and that's the same thing that I've seen in law enforcement. But historically, you know, it has been a choice for a lot of women that you either position yourself for promotion throughout the department, which most often comes with shift changes, which translates to midnights, or you choose to be a mother.

And so, you know, it's a difficult decision, and I don't - you know, and I don't begrudge anyone who makes a decision to focus more so on their family than their career.

CONAN: We're talking with Jane Castor, chief of police for the City of Tampa Police Department. And we want to hear from cops today. What changes as women become more integrated in the force? 800-989-8255. Email us: talk@npr.org. I should also say Chief Cathy Lanier of the Washington, D.C. Police Department will be with us a little bit later. But let's get Steve on the line, Steve calling us from North Canton in Ohio.

STEVE: Hi. How are you doing?

CONAN: I'm well, thanks.

STEVE: Good. You know, I'm actually an auxiliary officer with a small department in the Canton, Ohio area. But I think this is a good thing. You know, probably a good chunk of the victims and witnesses are female, and a lot of them would probably feel more comfortable, you know, having a female point of view in the law enforcement profession.

The only thing I'm concerned about - and I think this was also discussed with the women in the combat roles in the military - was that the physical fitness standards I believe should be uniform, you know, regardless of gender. In other words, if somebody has - if an officer needs to do 50 pushups to do the job correctly, then that should apply whether the officer's a male or a female. But overall, I think this is a good thing.

CONAN: Chief Castor, what about those physical requirements?

CASTOR: I agree with that. Unfortunately, our fitness requirements have been watered down to the point that, in essence, in order to pass a physical abilities test, you have to have a basic pulse and be breathing. So I surpassed, matter of fact, held the record for our physical abilities test for years, before I got old. But I agree that you need to be at a certain level of fitness in order to do your job.

But, you know, there's such variety of tasks and needs within law enforcement that you have to recruit all kinds of individuals. And I'm sure that the officer that was just talking would agree that the most important tool for any law enforcement officer is their verbal skills, their ability to talk their way into or out of a situation. And in my 29 years, I've been in very few physical altercations where someone really wanted to hurt you, as opposed to get away, didn't want to go jail or didn't want to be taken into custody.

CONAN: Steve...

STEVE: I completely agree with that. A SWAT officer probably has different physical needs than, let's say, a fraud investigator would.

CASTOR: Mm-hmm. And we have had women on our SWAT team in the past, and they're held to the same exact standards as the males.

STEVE: Excellent.

CONAN: Steve, thanks very much. And Chief Castor, why have the standards been watered down, as you said?

CASTOR: Well, through - you know, through litigation and challenges. But what we try to do is to encourage our officers to keep themselves in top physical condition, not only for the expectations and the rigors of the job from day to day, but just from a personal well-being standpoint, that, you know, we want our officers to have an outstanding career and to be able to retire in good health.

CONAN: Dorothy Schulz is a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, the author of "Breaking the Brass Ceiling: Women Police Chiefs and Their Paths to the Top." And she joins us here in Studio 3A. Good of you to join us today.

DOROTHY SCHULZ: Thank you. It's a pleasure to be here.

CONAN: And help us put Chief Castor's story into context. How common is it for, well, police departments to have female chiefs?

SCHULZ: Well, I seem to be the only one keeping a count, and I'm estimating that women make up about 3 percent of chiefs in this country, which is an increase. When I first did my study, it was about 1 percent. Now, admittedly, it's kind of not too scientific to count up through the police chiefs' meetings the new members lists or names you come across, but that seems to be - in a country like ours, where policing is so localized, that seems to be about the only way to keep a count. Certainly, the numbers are increasing, though.

CONAN: And how does that reflect the number of female officers?

SCHULZ: Somewhat interestingly - again, a lot of this is more observation and conjecture, because it's very hard to really do a nose count - but there does seem to be an indication that the overall numbers of women coming into law enforcement are not increasing, and, in fact, may be stagnating. Nobody seems to know why.

CONAN: At about what level?

SCHULZ: Well, again, because...

CONAN: I know. It's a ballpark figure.

SCHULZ: About 15 percent, I think, is the general consensus, that women now make up about 15 percent of law enforcement. Again, that might be 25 percent in one department and 0 percent in another.

CONAN: And is there any way to evaluate how that has changed the culture of this previously all-male bastion?

SCHULZ: I'm not so sure that there really is. Again, there's a lot of conjecture and people who think that women bring different skills than men do. But a lot of times, those are not the women in the field who are advocating that, because as Chief Castor said, if you want to prove competence in fields like law enforcement, oftentimes, the way to prove your competence is to act similarly rather than to be too different.

CONAN: Chief Castor, I wanted to ask you about that. Has the culture changed at the Tampa Police Department in your, what, almost 30 years?

CASTOR: Yes, the culture has changed somewhat. But when I came in 29 years ago, there wasn't - there were a lot of women in our department, and they were readily accepted. I think it has come to a point where individuals want someone who's going to do the job and do it appropriately and efficiently, and that's what, you know, our citizens want from our officers.

And we have examples in every category of individuals who are outstanding officers and who do a great job day in and day out. And, you know, it is my true hope that everyone's judged on their ability to do the job. But I'm not blind that there are individuals that don't think that women belong in law enforcement or, you know, women have to come to work and prove themselves every day.

CONAN: And Dorothy Schulz, quickly, we've - Chief Castor said she was following in the footsteps - when did we see our first female chiefs of police in this country?

SCHULZ: Well, there were actually a few in the '20s, but they were in very small departments and really anomalies. We begin to see - in the 1970s and in the early 1980s - a few women chiefs, primarily in small departments. I think that 2004, though, was something of a watershed, because you had four women leading large police departments.

And, again, although they were separate and different kinds of people, there was something to be said when you have a certain number, it makes things seem less odd.

CONAN: Chief Castor, Dorothy Schulz, please stay with us. After a short break, D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier will join us. For our listeners in blue, tell us: What changes as women become more integrated in police departments? 800-989-8255. Email us: talk@npr.org. We'll be back in just a minute. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News.


CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan. Each police department has its own challenges, resources and staffing, the populations they serve, the crimes they respond to and investigate. Here in Washington, D.C., there's another wrinkle. The Metropolitan Police Department is not the only law enforcement in town. In fact, in a city of just 68 square miles, layers of federal agencies, from the FBI to the U.S. Capitol Police to the Department of Homeland Security overlap the municipal force.

Since 2007, Chief Cathy Lanier, the city's first woman in that position, has headed up the D.C. police. She joins us in a minute. Police officers, today we want to hear from you. What changes as more and more women become more integrated in the force? 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our website. That's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Tampa Chief of Police Jane Castor and Dorothy Schulz, author of "Breaking the Brass Ceiling," are our guests. And now joining us is Cathy Lanier, the chief of the Washington, D.C., Police, sworn in just over six years ago. She's been on the Metropolitan Police Department force for 23 years, and Chief Lanier, thanks very much for being with us.

CATHY LANIER: Oh, I'm glad to be here.

CONAN: And I wanted to ask you the same question I asked Chief Castor. What went through your head as you were sworn in as the chief?

LANIER: Well, I mean, it was quite a shock for me to be asked to take this position when I was offered the job back in late 2006, early 2007. Never thought I'd see a woman lead the police department here in Washington, D.C., but I'm very excited at the opportunity. It's the department I grew up in, so I felt comfortable with, you know, the ability to run the police department. So it was a whirlwind for a while, though.

CONAN: I bet it was. Never thought you'd see the day. How come?

LANIER: Well, I've been here, as you say, 23 years, and even though - I mean, if you think about it this way, in my lifetime, women were not allowed to patrol along with men on the street in marked police cars. The first women that were actually allowed to patrol out in marked police cars in Washington, D.C. - as in many cities - based on a federal law enforcement women's lawsuit, was 1972. And I was born in 1967. So if you think about the, you know, the sea change from not being allowed to ride in a police car in my lifetime to having a woman in charge, that's a huge step forward.

CONAN: Cathy - Chief Lanier, I wanted to bring you in. Excuse me, go back - excuse me. Chief Castor, I wanted to bring you back into the conversation. Do those experiences parallel yours?

CASTOR: Yes, right around the '70s is when women were out patrolling in the city of Tampa, and before that, you know, they were only hired as matrons, juvenile, associated with the investigation of crimes involving juveniles and such, truancy.

CONAN: And I expect you two probably know each other.


LANIER: Yes, and it's nice to see more women sitting around the table at those conferences.

CASTOR: Yeah, yeah it's nice. Actually I have a really quick, funny story. I was in D.C. for the National Law Enforcement Memorial a couple of years ago, and a group of Chief Lanier's officers picked me up. And they said well, chief, where's your driver? And it took them a few seconds to realize, because we're both about around six foot tall and blonde, and so Chief Lanier, I changed a few policies in your department and gave them some extra leave and things. So I hope you don't mind.


LANIER: Thank you very much. I appreciate it.

CASTOR: Yeah, no problem.

CONAN: Let's see if we can get another caller in on the conversation. This is Doug, and Doug's with us from Murphys in California.

DOUG: Yes.

CONAN: Go ahead.

DOUG: Thank you very much. It's a pleasure to be aboard my favorite radio station and favorite radio program of all time.

CONAN: Well, thank you very much. Go ahead.

DOUG: I was a security officer at Disneyland, not a cop but one of the jolly blue giants in 1967. We were hired, you had to be over 6'3", and you had to be male. And in about 1969, 1970, the department hired the first female officer, and was there ever a brouhaha. All the guys who were Anaheim PD wannabes would just roll their eyes. But I thought it was wonderful.

And as time went on, women became more and more integrated into the department rather than just doing shoplifting details. And now today, I'd say the force is about 50-50, security supervisors are women who have just risen to great heights and done wonderful things. And it was a great, great thing to happen for equality and for Disneyland itself.

CONAN: I had not thought about that, Doug, but thank you very much for that. I didn't understand that. Appreciate it.

DOUG: You're more than welcome, thank you.

CONAN: And Chief Lanier, I'm not sure you have to deal with Disneyland security, but you've got to deal with a lot of various agencies that very few of us outside of Washington, D.C., have ever heard of and a lot of us inside Washington, D.C., have a hard time unscrambling the letters.

LANIER: Well, I have to tell you, you know, when I heard your opening comments about the layered security here in Washington, D.C., and I always say this in jest with my colleagues, that there is just one real police department here, that's the Metropolitan Police Department. So when you dial 911, it's my phone that rings. So...


LANIER: But we have good relationships here. It really is - there are multiple federal law enforcement agencies here, and I've been very fortunate in the seven years that I've - six and a half years I've been chief, we've had just fantastic relationships amidst - it's day to day here. Every single day we work together. So you've just got to keep the egos out of the room and everybody support each other's mission, and we all have our own mission here, so...

CONAN: And it's interesting now you have a female head of the Secret Service.

LANIER: Yes, spoke with her yesterday in fact. So things are changing. I've seen things change significantly in the last, you know, six years since I've been chief.

CONAN: And Dorothy Schulz, to get back to you, change, I think that's the theme of your book, and that's what we're hearing.

SCHULZ: Certainly the number of women in high ranks is a big, big change. I often tell the story I'm a retired captain, and at one point that was a big deal. And I'm very proud and happy to say that it isn't really a big deal anymore. And that's as it should be because as Chief Castor said, I came on someone else's shoulders, as did she, and so did Chief Lanier.

We all changed the field in some ways as we came along, and I think one of the biggest changes, although it does seem fewer women are going into law enforcement, those who are can look for a much brighter future, not that, as we said, there aren't still people who are against the idea. But generally that's becoming less of an issue. And women see other women who've been successful, and even if not as a mentor per se, when you see other people who have been successful, it opens the door that you could be, too.

CONAN: Chief Lanier, do you see yourself as a mentor to other female officers?

LANIER: Oh, I try to be. I really try to be. I think that's one of the most important things that women can do for other women in general and especially in a field like law enforcement because there's - you know, although many of my mentors, most of my mentors, were men, and they were fantastic mentors. I think it's really important that women, you know, create networks to help other women because sometimes - because it is still, you know, an area where there's not a lot of women, to support other women with a little bit of confidence and mentorship is really, really important. So I try to, as often as I possibly can.

CONAN: Chief Castor, that raises an interesting point. At some moment in your career, in I guess middle management, somebody had to give you a break.

CASTOR: Yes, and the same is true for me: The majority of my mentors were men, as well. But I try to help women as much as I possibly can and, you know, help them avoid some of the mistakes that I have made. And certainly there are going to be unique circumstances being a woman in a male-dominated field that only another woman could assist you with.

I also belong to the National Association of Women Law Enforcement Executives, and it's a national organization that really looks towards preparing women for that next step and to perform well in executive positions within law enforcement.

CONAN: Let's go next to Doug, and Doug's on the line with us from Grass Valley in California.

DOUG: Yes, good day. Nice show.

CONAN: Thank you.

DOUG: I retired from law enforcement, been retired for 12 years now. And back in the late '70s we had a rather diminutive female officer that came to work for us. I was working an opposite shift. And after she had gone through her probation and had been working, I got transferred to the same shift that she was on. And I was always curious because she was so small, maybe 5'5", 130 pounds.

And we're a very rural community, very redneck community, and I was just curious as to why she never got in any fights the way the guys did. And being her supervisor, I went out for a ride-along with her two days in a row, and I didn't get it right away, but what I realized is she had kind of a funny little giggle, and she seemed to be kind of on the surface.

But when she handled her calls, she just had her antenna out and was so tuned to never let them get too serious. And she just had a way of disarming the conversation, keeping it light, the whole time getting all the information and writing excellent reports. And so I came away with that realizing that there's, you know, our typical male way of handling, responding to a call was one choice but she certainly had another choice and she was very effective.

CONAN: When you say get into fights, you mean with the public, with suspects?

DOUG: Right, right. With the, you know, the rabble that you encounter at 12 o'clock or 2 o'clock in the morning, just, you know, that is adorable.

CASTOR: You know, I'd like to comment on that. I think that's something that people and the community and inside of the police department really do appreciate about the addition of women in law enforcement at all levels, is that we do bring something a little different to the table. And the policing philosophy has changed over the years. It's from the enforcer, you know, model to where we are today.

But I think women are very good communicators, and I think people appreciate that, especially people in crisis, and instead of measuring our success in law enforcement by arrests. And, you know, the kind of statistical numbers, I think, you know, the absence of arrests while crime goes down is really the important thing. And so the absence of, you know, physical confrontation, but the, you know, solving problems without the physical confrontations is also something that is a sign of success in law enforcement. So it's not really all about brute force anymore, and I think women bring that element of not only compassion, inherent compassion for other folks, but good communication skills are really important.

DOUG: I couldn't agree more. Although their numbers may be low, law enforcement completely changed once women got integrated in. And we did see a different way of doing the job and I think a more effective way.

CONAN: Dorothy Schulz?

SCHULZ: Just want to add that change is very, very apparent at the top. Once upon a time, you used to see that most chiefs came from SWAT or predecessor-type units. Today, you see many - almost all chiefs of almost any size department with graduate degrees coming from - or coming - law degrees, coming from parts of the police department that are much more people or more management oriented. And whether that can be attributed to women or a maturation or professionalization of the field can be discussed forever. But the truth is that the leadership in law enforcement I think has changed for the better in the last 20 years.

CONAN: Doug, thanks very much.

DOUG: You bet.

CONAN: Our guests are Dorothy Schulz - you just heard - a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, the author of "Breaking the Brass Ceiling: Women Police Chiefs and Their Paths to the Top." Also with us, the chiefs of police of Tampa, Florida, and Washington, D.C., respectively, Jane Castor and Cathy Lanier. You are listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. And, Chief Castor, is it your experience, as Dorothy Schulz said, that the number of women joining the force has flattened out?

CASTOR: Yes, that is - and we - really for the first time - are actively recruiting females into law enforcement, but it does seem that - and I don't know what the explanation if there is one, what the reasoning is.

CONAN: Chief Lanier, is that your experience as well?

LANIER: At least not here in Washington, D.C. I mean, we do have I think a unique draw for recruit officers because we are the nation's capital. But we have one of the higher percentages of women on our force; we're at about 23 percent. And I don't see any drop-off in the number of women applying for the police department.

CONAN: Let's go next to Connie, and Connie is on the line with us from Cabot, Arkansas.


CONAN: Hi. Go ahead, please.

CONNIE: In 1975, I became a police officer, and there's so much I'm trying to think how to say it in the short form. I think the biggest thing is the term sexual harassment didn't even exist in '75, but sexual harassment really did exist. And I think that's one of the biggest changes that's made - it's - I don't want to build myself up in front of others, but I think because of the ones that came early on, because I put up with it and they just worked, and they worked through the situations to make themselves valuable to the male officers, I'm glad to see it's grown to the point now where there's supervisors and police chiefs that are females.

CONAN: And were you on a small force there in Arkansas?

CONNIE: Well, I was in a small - fairly small municipal is where I started out. I went in and applied to be a radio operator because I didn't even know I could be a police officer. And they told me they wanted to hire me as a police officer. And then later, I went to the sheriff's department, and then eventually, I just got out of law enforcement. I didn't retire. But when I was at the sheriff's department, I became the first woman in the state to - I was a lieutenant, which was the highest rank in the state for a female at the time, with the exception of one police chief that made his secretary a sworn officer so she could get a higher pay.


CONNIE: But anyway, I think the stereotype of women and police officer - being police officers has just really changed. I know I had a lot of fights, but all my fights were with females because there was problems with officers being sued by females for saying they were sexually harassed or something that the officers had made passes at them. So any time a police officer stopped a drunk or somebody on drugs that was a female, I got called to the scene because they wanted a female there. And so that's why I had quite a few fights, but it was always with females. I can always work with men and not have fights.

CONAN: Chief Lanier, I wanted to ask you that sexual harassment part of this - that's one of the things, has it really changed?

LANIER: It has dramatically, and I'm one of the women who sued the police department in a harassment. When I came on, it was a whole different culture. I mean it was not only, you know, individuals throughout the police department, the culture was acceptance of harassment. And, you know, the harassment was almost intolerable. It wasn't even hidden. It was done in the open, and a lot of women really went through some really horrible experiences, and I'm sure before me, probably worse than what I went through. But, you know, I just - I thought it was important to stand up for - in particular case, there were several women that were harassed by the same guy, and he was a manager. So I filed a complaint and, surprisingly, all of the witnesses who had witnessed what happened with me were all male, and they all gave statements on my behalf on what they have seen because they were pretty fed up with it, too, and we were successful. And I think that really started to change the culture here, that it's no longer a common and accepted practice, that you can, you know, in some cases, physically assault female police officers, you know, and that the culture is going to tolerate it.

CONAN: Connie, thanks very much for the phone call. Appreciate it.

CONNIE: Well, all right. And thank you, women, for getting where you are.


CONAN: Well, there are two chiefs of police here with us today. We want to thank them for their time. You just heard Chief Cathy Lanier, chief of police for the Metropolitan Police Department in Washington, D.C. Thank you very much.

LANIER: You're welcome.

CONAN: And Jane Castor, chief of police for the city of Tampa Police Department, who joined us from WUSF, our station there in Tampa. Appreciate your time today.

CASTOR: Thank you very much. It was a pleasure.

CONAN: Dorothy Schulz joined us here in Studio 3A, professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Her book is "Breaking the Brass Ceiling." Thanks very much.

And when we come back, what's killing the bees? Stay with us. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.