‘It’s such an asset’: MPD stands out for high percentage of female officers

MADISON, Wis. – In many parts of the country, female officers aren’t a given, but in Madison, they’re an expectation.

On average women make up 12% of the nation’s police force. The Madison Police Department more than doubles that, with 28% of its workforce made up of women.

“I just love what I do,” Officer Andrya Coutts said. She’s been with the department for nearly 21 years, and knows the sacrifices her career takes, especially from her time working as a single mother.

“I understand it is the general direction in life for women that they don’t want to do this,” Coutts said. “They just don’t feel they’re capable. Maybe they weren’t given encouragement in their home or in their life growing up, thinking that you can do this, that you can be strong enough.”

For those who do want to join the force, Coutts said it’s more than possible, especially with the Madison Police Department.

“I just think it’s a no-brainer. If women choose to be in this profession, and that’s an ‘if,’” Officer Carren Corcoran said. “Then, the next step is, let’s get them on board and trained well, and they can be just as effective as a male officer.”

Corcoran is retiring after nearly 30 years with the department. In the ‘90s, she and the department were featured in a Glamour article about women in policing. Even at that time, the article said women made up 27% of the force.

“I can’t believe departments can operate at 12% women anymore,” Coutts said. “I don’t want to say women are so different than men, but we do bring different things to the table. It’s such an asset, I can’t understand how they function in this day and age.”

Investigator Joanna Hollenback points to assets like different communication skills for different situations.

“Women, because we tend to be talkers, that part comes easier for us sometimes,” Hollenback said. “I could talk people into handcuffs more than I had to fight with them.”

Hollenback said the class she was hired with had a female majority.

“There was no, ‘She’s a female, she can only do this, or maybe she can’t,’ I mean there was none of that — not with my classmates, not with my trainers and not when I hit the streets, either,” she said.

According to these officers, it’s not just the women on the force who are supportive, but their male counterparts, too.

“I don’t ever want something given to me because I’m a woman,” Corcoran said. “Also a testament today is the men I work with don’t remind me that I’m a woman.”

Even Corcoran’s male K-9 Slim is named after the childhood nickname of Lori Rappe, who was a founding member of Capital K-9.

“I will say, Slim is a lovely work partner,” Corcoran said. “(But) female dogs tend to be smarter. No, I’m kidding, he’s great.”

Coutts said with the established legacy of strong woman police officers at the department, she never second guessed making her dream a reality.

“I give those women a lot of credit,” she said. “They did a lot of prep work for us to come in. Knowing that was done, this being the reputation there, it did make it easier and more welcoming to come in, and I hope we’re continuing the trend for new women.”