In 1996 I attended my first International Association of Women Police conference. It was held in Dallas, TX and I attended it by myself but I wasn't alone for long. Usually I'm a total control freak who plans things down to the minute (just ask my family about my pre-planned assaults on Disney World, otherwise know as vacation) but this time I decided to just wing it.
I found myself swept along by hundreds of other attendees, mostly women, as we socialized, attended classes, and learned more about each others' cultures, countries and responsibilities. I found out that most Royal Canadian Mounties don't actually ride horses. I learned the difference between an Australian and a British accent. I even met a group of female detectives from Uganda who had to walk an average of three miles to investigate most of their cases (so much for complaining that the city was forcing me to drive that damn patrol car with nearly 100,000 miles on it). The whole experience affected me profoundly; I had never been at an event with that many fellow female cops. I no longer felt isolated, so afterwards I vowed to get out there more and network with other women.
In 2004 Dave Smith and I developed and presented the first Calibre Press "Street Survival for Women" seminar in Las Vegas. Co-sponsored by the IAWP, we were hoping for 75-100 attendees, so we were blown away when we walked into the ballroom at "New York New York" and saw over 300 female cops waiting to hear us speak. We learned immediately that the hourly 10 minute breaks turned into 25 minute intermissions because the attendees wanted to talk to each other, so we built in a networking event at the end of the first day. Women need to talk to each other, so we gave them the time and the opportunity to do that. Nearly seven years later, the interaction between the students is still one of the best things about this twice-a-year event.
As Dr. Louanne Brizendine talks about in her popular book The Female Brain, women are hard wired to be connected and to bond. I know there are plenty of local networking opportunities in most communities, but when I joined my city's "Women in Business" association, I never found a fellow member who cared to discuss the merits of a well-placed head shot. Sometimes you just need to be around other cops; so what are your options?
The International Association of Women Police is the flagship organization for female cops. Founded in 1915, the IAWP's annual training conference has grown from a simple meeting to a week-long event. From chiefs to college students, women (and even some men) from over 70 countries attend each year. The conference boasts an extensive vender hall, serious training classes (everything from firearms and tactics to human trafficking and police fitness), sightseeing and social events, and the chance to meet men and women from all over the world.
Women In Federal Law Enforcement (WIFLE) is another growing organization that puts on an extremely well-organized annual conference. The president, Margie Moore, is a no-nonsense retired federal agent who has surrounded herself with a top-notch staff who manage to bring in big-name trainers and fascinating speakers while keeping the atmosphere professional but friendly. You don't have to be a federal agent to join (I'm a proud member) and if you're a local cop looking to move into federal law enforcement, WIFLE is the place to meet recruiters and personnel from virtually every branch of federal police service.
If you're a police executive (or want to become one), the National Association of Women Law Enforcement Executives (NAWLEE) is an organization to consider. Small but growing, NAWLEE is an inspiring group of women who have gone the distance in this profession, and they are ready and willing to mentor new members. The National Center for Women in Policing (NCWP) also hosts an annual, more intimate conference, allowing women to really get to know each other during the event while learning about national issues facing female law enforcement personnel today.
There are also some outstanding regional associations that offer networking opportunities for crimefighters from around the nation. The Rocky Mountain Women in Law Enforcement (RMWLE) annual conference offers training for both sworn and civilian personnel as well as great socializing in beautiful surroundings. RMWLE is rapidly becoming a national force on the conference scene, and its outstanding staff of men and women think of absolutely everything. The El Paso, TX PD Empowering Women in Law Enforcement conference is also growing by leaps and bounds and now boasts international attendance. Well organized and easy to get to, this event is perfect for a conference newbie. Organized by a tight-knit group of women who are supported by the entire El Paso community, attendees feel like a part of the family from the moment they arrive. California's Women Leaders in Law Enforcement is another annual event that continues to grow.
Many states such as New York, New Jersey, Texas, Iowa and Wisconsin (just to name few) offer local training conferences for female cops. There are also state, local and national organizations and training conferences for dispatchers, records managers, and other civilian personnel.
One of the many traits that all these events have in common is the positive atmosphere that attendees experience at each conference. These are not bitching, whining, man-bashing sessions, nor are they girls' night out disguised as police training. If you attend any one of these conferences, you will walk away with new skills, abilities and information. Many of the attendees pay their own way and use personal leave time to attend these events. Notably, many men in the law enforcement profession attend and volunteer at these conferences, and I've never met one who didn't thoroughly enjoy the experience.
I know we're all busy and money is tight, but if you are serious about your career in police work, you truly need to broaden your horizons and get out there and network!