Photo credit: John Wills
What a radical idea - lady cops wearing the same uniform and performing the same duties as their male counterparts! It will never work we said, they are too weak, too timid, too small, and not aggressive enough. Those were some of the arguments that we promulgated to dissuade the powers that be that women and police work just don't mix. Back in the early 1970s when I was a rookie Chicago cop, the thought that I might have to wade into a bar fight with a 5'3" female cop as my partner was very unappealing. The notion that a female could be a suitable partner for me while I struggled to cuff a robbery suspect, did not strike me as a good idea at all. My colleagues and I were all about kicking butt first and sorting things out later. How would female cops fit into that paradigm?
Well, I didn't know it at the time, but there were plenty of ladies that shared the same mindset that many of us on the street had. Until they made their debut as "full-fledged cops," some of them had served as matrons in the women's lockup. These "ladies" were tough when they had to be; they didn't hesitate for a moment to smack someone that needed a little incentive to listen to orders, or shout someone down who thought that disrespect for cops was the order of the day. They were tough when they had to be, and professional always.
So when the first group of ladies hit the streets of Chicago in the Englewood District where I worked, I didn't give them much of a chance for survival, much less success. The 7th District was one of the toughest, crime-ridden areas on the Southside of Chicago. You had to be tough to live there; you had to be street-smart to work there. Would it be possible for the ladies to make a go of it in this type of environment? It was the ultimate social experiment.
In the early days, many of my colleagues were perplexed about how to deal and work with female cops. Many of us treated them as our little sisters, girlfriends, etc., rather than viewing them as just another cop on the beat. This type of behavior was a hindrance to both the female cops and the male cops. We backed them up when no backup was needed; we handled some of their jobs instead of letting them learn "on the job" just as all of us had done. In short, we hindered their performance and retarded their learning curve, while we ignored some of the things that we normally did on patrol. We were so concerned about their safety, that we put ourselves at risk unnecessarily. In short, we acted like idiots.
Fast forward 35 years... What was the result of that social experiment? The answer is that it was a resounding success. The naysayers were proven wrong; the arguments that female cops were too small, weak and timid, proved to be without merit. Female police officers are now treated no differently than their male counterparts, and their ascension into the command ranks continues to increase each year. Case in point: recently in Chicago, Beatrice Cuello became the first woman to head up the patrol division. Her promotion was a huge leap. Cuello's last job was district commander of the Marquette District on Chicago's Southwest Side. She now holds one of the most coveted command positions in the Department. All across our great nation you will find female police chiefs, assistant chiefs and heads and assistant directors of federal agencies.
While I laud all of those women that rose through the ranks to become leaders and supervisors, my heart and soul has always been with those that work in the trenches - those cops and agents that prowl the streets day and night, to ferret out the "missing links" in our society that terrorize our families and communities. It is these special female cops that I give all praise and admiration to. There have been scores of them that have proven their mettle, going toe-to-toe with thugs and miscreants, without regard for their own safety. There are countless numbers of our female warriors that have won and lost gun battles with some of the most dangerous heathens that ever walked the face of the earth. Just as there are many of us that have never been involved in high-profile, life and death struggles, gun battles, murders, etc., there are scores of female officers that simply go out and do the job in a competent, professional manner day in and day out. They do it out of a sense of duty, out of a love, indeed a passion for police work, and a sense of compassion and love for their fellow man.
I hold these ladies in high esteem. I was fortunate to have been involved in training scores of female FBI Agents while I was assigned to the FBI Academy at Quantico, VA. Their tenacity, resolve, and focus were inspiring. They handled tough physical and mental challenges equally as well. On the day of their graduation, their FBI credentials were "earned, never given."
I am still in contact with a handful of agents that I helped train, both male and female, but Marlene in particular stands out. She is presently assigned to one of the FBI's 60 Legal Attache offices around the world. She is fluent in two foreign languages, has a stellar academic background, and has a tremendous thirst to constantly improve her skills. She keeps in constant contact with me, bleeding me dry for the latest in tactics, firearms, and everything and anything that will help her to survive and win on the street. Being assigned in a foreign country precludes her ability to carry a firearm, yet she knows that marksmanship is a perishable skill, and finds ways to hone and maintain her proficiency. In short, the desire and drive that this female warrior possesses is remarkable. She is the type of cop that I would not hesitate to go through a door with, or have as a back up when things go sideways. I know that there are many more like her out there, and that there are more that have preceded her. I salute them for the adversity that they faced then, and the challenges they will wrestle with throughout their career. I know that the question posed back in the day - Female cops, what good are they? - now holds sway with no one. They have proven their worth and merit. Today I cannot imagine law enforcement without our women in blue. They have truly become an integral part of our nation's law enforcement community. Stay safe brothers and sisters!