Women have served in various capacities as sworn officers in the United States since the late 19th Century. However, it was not until the early 1970’s that women have been able to work as patrol officers and compete equally with men for promotions within their departments. Before 1973, most women officers served in specialized bureaus and their job duties were focused on the needs of women and children in crisis. The consequential legal action on behalf of the women police of the time, particularly in the larger cities, resulted in significant changes. Women thereafter were permitted to compete for promotions and to work in patrol and investigative services along with men.

But law enforcement is still a field few women have joined. A recent study by the National Center for Women in Policing said that in 1972, women represented only 2 percent of police officers nationally, and by 1997 that number had grown to only 12 percent of the total sworn.

The number of women in the ranks of sworn officers continues to increase slowly, and more organizations are working in the interests of women who serve. The International Association of Women Police has been around since the early part of the 20th Century. The National Center for Women in Policing was organized by former Portland (OR) Police Chief, Penny Harrington, in 1995. The National Association of Women Law Enforcement Executives focuses on women who serve at the top of their organizations and provides excellent training and resources for the law enforcement professional.

In addition to women’s organizations, the International Association of Chiefs of Police is also seeking to involve more women in law enforcement. The IACP completed a survey in November 1998, “The Future of Women in Policing: Mandates for Action.” This survey concluded with 12 recommendations for action, some of which included ideas for partnering with other professional associations and building programs for recruiting and mentoring women. In their conclusions the Ad Hoc Committe on Women in Policing said, “The IACP believes it is essential to take action to strengthen the position of women in policing--their number, their professional development, their progress in positions of leadership, and their contribution to the public service and safety.”

In Ohio, that’s where the OWL Network comes in. We are building our partnership with Ohio’s law enforcement agencies, the OACP and individual professionals to strengthen the mission of law enforcement throughout Ohio. We believe the key to taking advantage of the talents and skills of their workforce, law enforcement organizations is to build an atmosphere that encourages mentoring of all its people. One of the most effective means to network and build your professional relationships is to become active. Join training programs, develop local organizations and learn to reach out to mentor and develop others.