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What Women (Cops) Want

"What Women Want" was (in my opinion) the last good movie that starred Mel Gibson. Yes, I realize that by most media accounts Mel is an angry, intolerant alcoholic womanizer, but put all that aside and if you haven’t already done so, rent a copy of this 2000 romantic comedy and ponder the implications of a man with the ability to read the unfiltered thoughts of women.  If nothing else, it will make you laugh, and it may make you think.

I certainly don’t speak for every woman in law enforcement, but I meet thousands of them every year and I’m close friends with many.  Sometimes we wish men (and other women) could read our minds.  Based on some recent conversations with my fellow female warriors, here’s just a sampling of what women cops may really want:

First of all, they want the opportunity to be part of the proud profession of law enforcement.  Women are not only police officers; they are dispatchers, records clerks, forensic techs, prosecutors, and so much more.  They work in administration, animal control, crime prevention, and community service.  Women want to serve, and be of service.  They want relevant, meaningful positions; they want to help. 

Women want to earn their own way, not have opportunities handed to them based solely on gender stereotypes or misguided quotas.  The majority of women I know don’t mind having to “prove themselves” (like any rookie or newbie does) but they get weary of having to do it over and over again just because they are female.  They also want to compete fairly for specialty positions and promotions, even for shift differentials. I talk to too many women who are stuck on an undesirable shift because the department wants a female on every watch.  Many departments still have antiquated general orders that do not allow male officers to search female suspects, but they allow women cops to search men.  This is ridiculous and dangerous. 

Women want equipment that fits and helps to keep them safe and prepared.  I’m continually astounded by the number of women I meet who are forced to carry a handgun that doesn’t fit them, use a shotgun that is too large, or wear body armor made for a man.  Their duty belts are uncomfortable and they’re forced to wear men’s uniforms even though there are plenty of mainstream vendors out there who make great police gear for the female body. Women also want good, dedicated trainers and great training.  They want instructors who provide relevant information, usable tactics, and motivational resources without endless war stories about their own heroics.  Women want to learn about themselves and how to take advantage of their differences; they want knowledge that they can apply to their day-to-day life to make them better cops. 

They want to enjoy coming to work.  Humans are naturally “herd” creatures and women are hardwired to bond. (yes, that’s why we go to the bathroom in groups) They want to enjoy their time at work and connect on a personal level with at least a few of their co-workers.  Women tend to lean toward consensus, and they prefer a workplace atmosphere that is supportive rather than contentious. They also want to be recognized for seniority, experience, and leadership skills.  They want the ability to be able to mentor…and be mentored.  They want to network, to be able to join associations like the IAWP, WIFLE and so many others without being called “man-haters.”  They want to be trainers, they want to share what they know and what they’ve learned.

Women don’t want their sexuality to be an issue.  Newsflash!  There are lesbians in law enforcement. (there are also gay guys, by the way, and lots of straight people too)  Whether you’re gay or straight should not be an issue on any police department.  I’ve been called every lesbian slur in the book (most I can’t put in writing), especially when I had short hair and was in uniform. So what?  What infuriated me more was the gossip in the roll call room when officers, male and female, were debating a fellow employee’s sexual orientation or who was sleeping with whom? Does your sexuality or your sex life matter when you’re making a traffic stop, breaking up a violent domestic dispute, or running toward the shots of an active shooter who is trying to kill someone in your community?

Like most people, women also want a meaningful personal life.  They don’t want “the job” to be their 24/7 obsession.  They want friends, a family, hobbies.  They want to be individuals.  All women are not alike, and I certainly don’t speak for every woman in this profession. We talk a lot about “diversity,” but we also need to speak frankly and meaningfully about our unity, our strength of purpose and our mission in this profession.  Both men and women want to be part of the Thin Blue Line, the family that is law enforcement.  Already this year, nine women police officers, along with forty six of their brothers, have died in the line of duty.  The men and women of this wonderful profession share an unbreakable connection; love your brothers and sisters in blue. We need each other; we always have, and we always will.


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About The Author:

Sgt. Betsy Brantner Smith is a 29-year veteran of a large suburban Chicago police department. Recently retired as a patrol supervisor, she has held positions in patrol, investigations, narcotics, juvenile, crime prevention and field training. As a sergeant, she supervised her department's K-9 Unit, served as a field training sergeant, recruitment team sergeant, bike patrol coordinator, the Crowd Control Bike Team supervisor, and supervisor of the Community Education/Crime Prevention Unit.

As a patrol sergeant, Betsy served on the Elderly Services Team, the Crisis Intervention Team, and was a supervisory member of the Honor Guard Unit. From 1999 - 2003 Betsy hosted various programs for the Law Enforcement Television Network and served as a content expert.

A graduate of the Northwestern University Center for Public Safety's School of Staff and Command, Betsy writes for numerous law enforcement and government publications including and is a regular columnist for many police websites including Police Link. A content expert and instructor for the Calibre Press "Street Survival" seminar since 2003, Betsy also serves as an on-air commentator and advisor for Police One TV and was a featured character in the Biography Channel’s “Female Forces” reality show. Betsy has been a law enforcement trainer for over 20 years and is a popular keynote speaker at conferences throughout the United States and Canada and beyond.

Betsy is the lead instructor for the Calibre Press “Street Survival for Women” seminar and manages Dave Smith & Associates. Together, Betsy and Dave teach courses through “Winning Mind Seminars,” an Illinois based company. She can be reached through her website at