‘We’re planting trees we’ll never climb’: The push for more women behind the badge

MADISON, Wis. — The under-representation of women in policing undermines public safety, according to research from a coalition that aims to put more women behind the badge.

The Madison Police Department is listed as part of this movement and it has a big goal to bring in more women. It recently tweeted what it pictures for its future.

Whenever Officer Kaitlyn Schaefer is behind the wheel of her police cruiser, she remembers the driving force that got her into law enforcement.

“I was really interested in investigating crimes, crime shows and everything,” Schaefer said.

Recently, the Madison Police Department highlighted Schaefer and some of her female colleagues.

The department tweeted a photo and wrote, “How cool is this? We recently had an entire West night shift that was all female.”

https://twitter.com/madisonpolice/status/1569310039206203396

“That was just a really really cool experience, super fun to see an all-girl crew,” Schaefer said.

You may ask, what’s the big deal? Even now, policing is still largely a man’s world. According to 30×30, an initiative to advance women in policing, women make up just 12% of the law enforcement officers in the country.

“I think it’s important for our department to represent our community and that also means having more women in the department,” Schaefer said.

MPD beats that national trend by more than double, with women making up 28% of the force. MPD wants to build on that and has a goal to boost that to 30% by 2030.

“We’re well on our way. We’ve placed an emphasis on diversity in that respect because we know not every officer handles calls the same way, so we work really hard to find different ways to solve problems,” Captain Kelly Beckett said.

Beckett says MPD works to create a supportive and inclusive environment to recruit and keep women on the force, which helps with certain cases. 30×30 says research shows female officers have better outcomes for crime victims, especially in sexual assault cases. Schaefer has seen that firsthand.

“I feel like, as a female, I’ve been able to connect more with female victims and making them feel comfortable and kind of giving them their space and time for them to open up and tell their story,” Schaefer said.

Though statistically, the number of men on the force far outweighs the number of women, Beckett credits other female officers who have mentored her as she’s climbed the ranks, and wants to do the same.

“I’m continuing a journey that all of the brave women before me paved back when they couldn’t do have the stuff we do now without a fight,” Beckett said. “We’re planting trees we’ll never climb.”

While the photo of the all-female patrol is just a snapshot of one night, Schaefer hopes it helps develop more opportunities for any woman who wants to join the force.

“My advice to her would be to do it, because if you have a goal, if you have a dream, you can work toward it and make it possible,” Schaefer said.

Pew research shows there are a few reasons for the low national rate of women police officers, including stereotypes about the profession, the demands of training, patterns of sexism and harassment and the perpetual lack of women to serve as mentors.