More and more, today’s cops are women
The Norwich Police Department headquarters on Thames Street is running out of locker room space for its 11 female officers.
The building was constructed in 1979 “before females were a major part of law enforcement,” Norwich Police Chief Patrick Daley said.
Things have changed and there are more women working in law enforcement today than in 1979, but nationally women still only make up about 12% of the sworn officers working nationwide and just 3% have risen to leadership positions.
The numbers have remained mostly stagnant for two decades despite a growing body of statistics that show clear benefits to diversifying the traditionally male-dominated profession.
Studies indicate that female officers are less likely to use excessive force, are the targets of fewer complaints and lawsuits, are perceived as being more empathetic and make fewer discretionary arrests, especially among non-white residents, said Maureen Q. McGough, chief of strategic initiatives for the New York University School of Law and co-founder of the 30X30 initiative.
“It’s about getting getting past that ingrained societal definition of what a police officer should look like,” McGough said.
The 30X30 initiative is a national effort begun in 2018 to raise awareness of the benefits of bringing on more female officers and of demographic diversity at police departments in general. The initiative aims to boost female representation in law enforcement agencies to 30% by 2030 and has been getting departments to take a closer look at policies and procedures to find out how they can better support the success of female officers. Departments signing on to a 30x30 pledge are sharing information on what works.
Norwich falls close to the national average with 11 of its 80 officers, or 13%, being female and has one female supervisor. Numbers from eastern Connecticut police departments are all slightly above or below 12%. The City of Groton Police Department has the highest ranking female officer in the region. Patricia Lieteau was promoted to captain in 2021, the first female to hold the position at the department.
East Lyme, where five of the . 27 full-time officers are women, boasts the highest percentage of females among the departments polled at 18%.
“Our department is always searching for the best candidate to become East Lyme police officers, and in doing so we continue to try and create an agency that is responsive to the community and one that mirrors the community we serve,” East Lyme Chief Michael Finkelstein said.
Finkelstein said the department hosts college interns throughout the year, many of them female students and “strives to ensure the reputation and work environment, especially for female candidates, is a comfortable one to work in.”
He said the women in key positions at the department - lieutenant, a detective and a federal task force member - help demonstrate that career advancement is encouraged.
“Our female officers regularly meet with community groups, school groups, etc. to show young females that a career in law enforcement is something they can strive to attain,” Finklestein said.
Daley said he would like to think of the department as female friendly and is constantly seeking ways to be more inclusive. Finding creative ways to obtain space at the department, which has 10 lockers in the women’s changing area, is an ongoing effort since he expects the number of women at the department will continue to grow.
McGough, who previously worked with the National Institute of Justice, the research and development agency of the U.S. Department of Justice, said to boost numbers there needs to be an understanding of why the number of female officers is not growing.
“What are the low-cost things law enforcement agencies can do to improve the experience for women?” McGough said.
One of the immediate and easiest changes included simple things like ensuring equipment, such as ballistic vests, and uniforms are specifically designed for women. There is also a need to designate a clean, hygienic space for nursing mothers returning to work.
A department might design its recruitment efforts to attract women but “the last thing we want to do is get women in the door into an environment that’s not supportive,” McGough said.
There are also gender discrimination, biases and subjectivity in assessments of new recruits that need to be addressed, she said.
More than 250 law enforcement agencies across the country have signed on to the 30X30 pledge, including some of the nation’s largest law enforcement agencies like the New York City Police Department. McGough said those agencies collaborate on ideas of how to improve recruiting practices and eliminate biases and learn from one another about what’s working.
Smaller departments struggle
McGough said female representation at smaller departments like the ones in eastern Connecticut are particularly important since these are the places where the pool of candidates is smaller and less diverse and departments have fewer resources.
Ledyard Police Department Chief John Rich said there was a span of 10 years that his department, after the retirement of longtime officer Liz Smith in 2011, went without a single female officer. Rich, Ledyard’s chief since 2016, said he wanted the department to better represent the community but found there was a dearth of female applicants.
Rich said he gathered with supervisory staff to explore why.
“Is it something about us or our process? Are we unknowingly doing something that is not attracting female candidates? We definitely had an awareness of that,” Rich said.
Rich said the department took a more proactive approach to recruitment, making presentations at local colleges and high schools and trying to widen the department’s visibility on social media and at job fairs and other events.
The effort had paid off. Three of the last five hires at the 23-member department were female.
New female hires
Taylor Krajewski, 25, of Vernon and Kyra Teixeira, 24, were among the three female Ledyard police officers hired in 2021.
Krajewski said she always wanted to be “part of something bigger than myself,” and said she wasn’t intimidated by a job in a male-dominated field. Krajewski has a degree in criminology and wasn’t initially looking for a job at any specific department.
She said, “Ledyard was the first to show interest in me. They were most hospitable…. They were nice from the beginning.”
Krajewski said while some men may have a physical advantage over women, the women she’s come across at the police academy all have strong qualities and personalities and “don’t take (crap) from the other guys and can handle themselves well.”
Teixeira, 24, is an Old Lyme native who said the idea of becoming a police officer had been in the back of her mind but “it being a male dominated profession, it didn’t feel like a realistic option at the time.”
Teixeira said she wasn’t looking to work at a city department but rather a small town “that gives me the ability to work with the community in a community service role.”
Of the recruitment process, Teixeira said she didn’t get the impression she was hired because she was female.
“I didn’t get that vibe from them. They just wanted the best candidates,” Teixeira said.
Both Teixeira and Krajewski praised the department for being an accommodating place with opportunities for advancement and where training is encouraged and supported.
Texiera said she does think there are benefits to having a female on the force, especially during domestic violence calls when a female simply wants another women to talk to.
“I’m honestly really happy I ended up here. I love the community. Everybody in the police department is supportive of each other,” she said.
The New London Police Department, where Margaret Ackley reached a rare milestone by serving as the city’s first female police chief between 2009 and 2017, has eight female officers in a department of 64 sworn officers.
Christina Nocito, a mother and longtime employee at Chelsea Groton Bank, was hired by the New London Police Department in 2021 at the age of 42. She said she always had her sights set on being a police officer from an early age but waited until the timing was right.
“I had my son at a young age. I wanted to ensure he was taken care of first. Life kept happening,” Nocito said.
Nocito, in 2019, took and passed the physical agility and written tests to qualify for a police officer position when the tests were being hosted by the city in an initiative started by former Police Chief Peter Reichard. The idea of recruiting locally, as opposed to the regional test, was designed to attract a more diverse pool of applicants, including New London residents.
Nocito said the recruitment effort made the path a bit more convenient for her.
“I always knew that when I was ready to do this I would apply to New London. I grew up here. Why not help the community where you grew up. I didn’t apply anywhere else than New London,” she said.
Nocito is now one of two community resource officers and a highly visible representative of the department.
One of the female New London officers has a pending lawsuit alleging sexual harassment aimed at two of her fellow officers.
Nocito said her experience at the department has been a positive one thus far. Women, she said, can add a different perspective.
“I think we add patience. A few of us our moms and we can add that little twist on things and maybe we’re more understanding in certain situations,” Nocito said.
Other leaders in eastern Connecticut departments agree the addition of more female officers can only benefit their departments.
Groton Town Police Chief Louis J. Fusaro said his department benefits from “the life experiences, perspectives and points of view that our female officers bring to the department. They are an essential component to an well-rounded law enforcement agency.”
Nine of the Groton Town Police Departments 70 officers, or 13%, are female. The department’s highest ranking female officer, Capt. Kelly Crandall, retired recently but the department has three female sergeants, including a detective sergeant.
“We believe we have fostered an inclusive environment that would be an attractive place for anyone interested in a career in law enforcement, who also meet our high standards,” Fusaro said.