Fighting Like a Girl

"Fighting like a girl" brings up images of two ten-year-old girls in sleeveless paisley dresses and cotton shoes scratching and slapping each other on the playground because one stole the other's Barbie. But to the 2,000 female boxers registered in the United States or to the thousands of female police officers in North America, fighting like a girl means something totally different.

I remember it as if it were yesterday (I've always wanted to say that). It was a hot night and I got a call of a drunk person filling his car up with gas at a local gas station. When I drove up the drunk was walking into the station to pay for his gas while his girlfriend, also liquored up, was sitting in the passenger seat of the car. I was working alone and my backup was ten minutes away at the time. When I confronted the suspect as he staggered out of the gas station, he began to push me and yell drunken obscenities. At the same time, the passenger side door was opening and the liquored up girlfriend clicked her way towards us in her high heeled shoes. The look on her face sent me messages that she wasn't there to help me. what? I grabbed his wrist and turned him around with his back facing me. He struggled so much I ended bear hugging him from behind as we hit the ground. Since I knew that if I was on top I would get throttled by the girlfriend, likely with one of those high heeled shoes, I spun myself around so I was on my back, bear-hugging this guy with my arms, and now legs, as he tried to get out of my hold. Not a pretty sight I imagine, but it was the only way I could keep him still and me safe. But now what? Try and get out that hold! He kept struggling and I kept holding until the troops arrived to help. Within five minutes my backup arrived and we were able to handcuff the guy and arrest him. So this begs the question: if I were a man would I have reacted to the situation differently? I say "yes." Men and women fight differently--but we still get the job done.

Today we have a host of use-of-force options that even the playing field a little bit. With pepper spray, the TASER, and batons, there are more options available on your belt for subduing a suspect than ever before. But even with these options available, I would hazard a guess that women would use them less than your average male officer.

A police newsletter out of Switzerland indicated that "Females recorded a lower rate of weapon use when all types of weapons were considered together... Females also had a lower rate of suspect injury." The newsletter also goes on to say, "Contrary to traditional assumptions, female police officers (compared with their male counterparts) are not reluctant to use coercive force, and examinations of both verbal and physical force reveal few differences in not only the prevalence of each behavior but also in the commonly associated explanatory factors." So, with this tidbit of information, female officers may indeed still use force in their day-to-day work, but we don't hurt our suspects as badly as our male counterparts, and we get fewer complaints when we do hurt them.

The National Center for Women and Policing published a research paper "Men, Women, and Police Excessive Force: A Tale of Two Genders," that discussed some research about male and female officers. This research found that female officers were not reluctant to use force in their dealings with suspects, but were not as likely to use excessive force and often chose the path of communication, rather than physical force as an option.

The study also indicated that excessive force liability lawsuit payouts involving male officers cost between 2.5 and five times more than with female officers. Men are also 8.5 times more likely to have an allegation of excessive force sustained against them. Female officers actually save a police department money! So if our chiefs or sheriffs need a reason to hire female cops--how about money? Of course, the first thing that comes to mind is that your average male complainant would not want to come in and complain that he got beat up by a girl. A girl cop mind you, but a girl nonetheless. So although the research is good, there may be some underlying social factors that were affecting it. It is just too hard to measure the "I'm so embarrassed that a girl kicked my butt" factor.

Use-of-force options are different for every officer, regardless of whether there is more testosterone or estrogen running through their veins. The size of the officer compared to the size of the suspect, weapons used and the officer's comfort level addressing the weapon, years of service and experience, time of day, weather, number of other people with the suspect and much more affect our decisions. I think we all do the best we can with the tools that God gave us. Some favor one tool, some another.