LIMA — One of the bigger changes in police work during my career was the hiring of the first female officers in the 1970s. Even after about 40 years, there are people who are still skeptical that it works, and I still get the question asked occasionally. My answer is that it’s working out just fine. I’m not sure just how many women the department has employed as officers over the 40 years, but I do know that at least two have retired, and there are six currently active, two of them sergeants.
There were a lot of skeptics when we hired the first woman, and the biggest question concerned women’s ability to handle the physical aspects of the job. When I was hired, officers had to be big; there were height and weight requirements to keep small men from being hired. Those requirements were eliminated to enable us to hire women. While there was some grumbling about changing the standards at the time, I doubt that any of today’s male officers, who are much smaller on average than they were in my day, see it as a problem.
As one of the bigger officers on the department, I learned very quickly that some people seem to get personal satisfaction out of trying to antagonize the biggest guy, while ignoring the smaller ones. One of the first things that we learned after hiring women was that they didn’t get into situations requiring physical force as frequently as men did. I’m sure that there are all kinds of psychological and sociological theories explaining the reasons, and we’ll leave those to the experts (best defined as someone more than 50 miles from home and carrying a briefcase.) Suffice it to say that even the most unruly and uncooperative people frequently don’t seem to see anything to be gained by inflicting hurt on a woman.
Males also frequently have a hard time concealing their police occupation, no matter how much they change their appearance. Female officers don’t seem to have that problem. Once we had an attractive officer, wearing a wire, standing at North and Union streets attempting to get a potential “John” to solicit her. A man approached and engaged her in conversation for several minutes, but would not initiate a proposition. He finally turned to leave, then turned back around and handed her a $20 bill. She thought she finally had him, but without saying a word, he walked away. She said, “What’s this for?”
He replied, “That’s just for being here.”
She had no arrest, and her backup officers were laughing as she followed the man down the street trying to get him to take back the twenty.
Women officers are also handy when it’s time to search a female arrestee, but that can backfire. Once officers arrested someone they thought was a man, but during a search, he was found to have rather significant breasts. The officers called for a female officer to finish the search. She quickly found that it actually was a man. He was halfway through a sex change procedure, with top part done, and the bottom part yet to be completed.
In the 1970s, I was commander of the police academy, and we trained most of the officers in an area of several counties. We had one of our recently hired female officers in class with several officers from smaller departments, and they weren’t ready to accept this intrusion into what they considered to be a male domain. A few of them really enjoyed giving her a bad time. It didn’t take long for them to find out she could hold her own. I had the students practicing frisking techniques, and she had one of the men up against the wall. He kept turning his head around and bad-mouthing her. She suddenly grabbed the back of his trouser waist and pulled upward, giving him a serious wedgie. She yelled, “I said up against the wall and keep your mouth shut.”
Standing on tiptoe, in pain and with a slightly higher pitched voice, he replied, “Yes ma’am.”
She wasn’t bothered much after that.
Don Stratton is a retired inspector for the Lima Police Department. He writes a guest column for The Lima News.