Justice Today

30x30 Initiative: Prioritizing Women in Law Enforcement

June 12, 2023 Bureau of Justice Assistance Season 2 Episode 9
30x30 Initiative: Prioritizing Women in Law Enforcement
Justice Today
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Justice Today
30x30 Initiative: Prioritizing Women in Law Enforcement
Jun 12, 2023 Season 2 Episode 9
Bureau of Justice Assistance

Research shows that women officers use less force and are perceived by communities as more honest and compassionate. Yet currently, women make up only 12 percent of sworn officers and 3 percent of police leadership in the United States. In this episode of Justice Today, Maureen McGough, chief of strategic initiatives for the Policing Project at the New York University School of Law, discusses how the 30X30 Initiative, which is sponsored by the Bureau of Justice Assistance, is improving public safety by helping local law enforcement agencies recruit and retain more women.

Show Notes Transcript

Research shows that women officers use less force and are perceived by communities as more honest and compassionate. Yet currently, women make up only 12 percent of sworn officers and 3 percent of police leadership in the United States. In this episode of Justice Today, Maureen McGough, chief of strategic initiatives for the Policing Project at the New York University School of Law, discusses how the 30X30 Initiative, which is sponsored by the Bureau of Justice Assistance, is improving public safety by helping local law enforcement agencies recruit and retain more women.

The following transcript has been edited for clarity and brevity.

KAREN FRIEDMAN: Welcome to Justice Today, the official podcast of the Department of Justice's Office of Justice Programs, otherwise known as OJP. We shine a light on cutting-edge research and practices and offer an in-depth look at what we're doing to meet our time's most significant public safety challenges.

Join us as we explore how funding science and technology help us achieve strong communities. I'm your host, Karen Friedman. I am the Director of Criminal Justice Innovation, Development, and Engagement in OJP's Bureau of Justice Assistance, otherwise known as BJA.

Police reform is a nationwide discussion, but what if I told you police departments across the country could decrease instance of excessive force by simply recruiting and retaining more female officers?  Research shows women officers use less force and less excessive force and are perceived by communities as being more honest and compassionate. Yet currently, women make up only 12 percent of sworn officers and 3 percent of police leadership in the United States.

The 30x30 Initiative is a collaboration with BJA, and it wants to increase female representation in police to 30 percent by the year 2030. We are pleased to have with us today Maureen "Mo" McGough, who is the chief of strategic initiatives for the policing project at the New York University School of Law. At NYU School of Law, Mo overseas national efforts to develop standards for police departments and reimagine public safety by minimizing unnecessary reliance on force and enforcement. She also is the cofounder of the 30x30 Initiative that seeks to improve the representation and experiences of women in policing.

She joined the policing project from the National Police Foundation, where she led the nonprofits research, training, and technical assistance efforts as director of national programs. Prior to joining the National Police Foundation, Mo spent a decade with the federal government in various roles with the United States Department of Justice and the United States Department of State. Mo, it is so wonderful to have you here today, my lovely friend. How are you?

MAUREEN "MO" MCGOUGH: I'm great, Karen. Thank you so much for having me. This is wonderful.

KAREN FRIEDMAN: Oh, my pleasure. This is a very ambitious goal that you have Why are you and the police chiefs across the country aiming for 30% of police officers to be women by 2030?

MAUREEN "MO" MCGOUGH: First, I'm just glad to hear you describe it as ambitious. I can't tell you, you know, when we go out across the country talking about this, there's some folks who hear 30 percent and they have that reaction of, "Gosh, it's been 12 percent for decades. How the heck are you going to get there?"

But there are other people that are upset with us for not going straight into 50/50 representation, which we're not going to do for a host of reasons. But it's nice to hear that it's acknowledged that 30 percent would be a significant shift in policing and police culture if we're able to achieve it. But to answer your question directly, you know, you started to get into this a bit in your wonderful introduction of the work, but part of the reason why we're fighting so hard for this is not just gender equity. It's about the public safety impacts of the underrepresentation of women in policing.

There's a growing body of scientific research that highlights the unique value of women officers in many of the areas we really care about at this moment in American history when we think about policing. We've got research that shows that women officers use less force and excessive force. There's even one study that suggests that when a woman shows up on scene with a partner who's a man, that partner uses less force and excessive force if responding with a woman. They're perceived as communities as more—by communities as more trustworthy and compassionate.

To be clear, we don't know if they were trustworthy and compassionate, but communities perceived them to be, which is certainly critical for developing public trust. They're named in community complaints and lawsuits less often. They make fewer stops than their male counterparts, and they conduct fewer searches, but when they do, they're more likely to find contraband, which means they're more accurate in their decision to use invasive techniques. They fire their service weapon less often in the line of duty. They use their discretion to solve nonviolent misdemeanor offenses with solutions other than force and law. You know, the list is—it seems like it's growing by the month as well, and I think if, you know, I was on here talking about some training, right?  To promise you those types of outcomes, I think everyone in the country would be clamoring to implement that training, and instead we're just thinking really critically and differently about who gets to police and what we value in our officers.

KAREN FRIEDMAN: Right, the perception is very interesting. I know that, you know, when I was a judge, and I was on the campaign trail for judge, I always got comments like that: "Oh, we always go for women as judges. We think women make better judges.” And as you mentioned earlier, you know, female police officers has—and law enforcement—has really been kind of the needle has been stuck at about 12 percent. So what do you—why do you think that is?  Why do you think that that needle hasn't shifted at all over the years?

MAUREEN "MO" MCGOUGH: Oh, so many reasons. How much time do we have on this pod—if it's—feel free to stop me if I'm—if I'm going on too long about this. But there's just so much, and, you know, the good news is everything I'm about to share, I don't think any of it is really rocket science or all that complicated. It's just that there has been insufficient attention to this issue for so long, and the status quo of policing just isn't oriented towards women because it was built by and for men. You know, it's not necessarily intentional, but that's just the reality of the profession we're talking about.

So on the front end, when you look at things like recruitment strategies and content, agencies have been getting much better about having inclusive recruitment content. But the tale they're telling of what policing is and requires is still a hypermasculine story that doesn't match up with the reality that's required on a day-to-day. So that's part of it. A lot of the agencies we work with, you know, they rely significantly on traditional pools for recruits, like criminal justice majors or the military, and those are important pools, but we're encouraging people to think a little bit differently. You know, if you think about all the, sort of, skills and abilities we know are associated with fair and effective policing—that service orientation, that empathy, that ability to deescalate—you start thinking about different disciplines, like psychology, or sociology, or social worker, nursing education. Those also happen to all the areas where there's an overrepresentation of women.

Then moving-beyond recruitment, you look at the assessment process, there are very, very few validated assessments in this country for what it takes to be being a fair—a fair and effective officer. At the same time, there are many assessments that are disproportionately washing out women, particularly when it comes to things like physical fitness assessments. We know there are physical aspects of the job, but we do not want to lose women officers for physical requirements that have nothing to do with whether or not they can do that job.

My cofounder is the former chief of the Newark Police Department, Ivonne Roman, and she has these great sayings when we talk about this, you know, like, "I've put cuffs on thousands of people over the course of my career. I never once did I drop and give them 30 before I did. “ Or, you know, "If you're running a mile and a half after suspect, you're doing it wrong. Where's your Cruiser, and where’s your back—where's your backup?  So, you know, again, not to say that there aren't physical thresholds that need to be met, but we need to make sure that they're empirically validated, especially if they're disproportionately washing out certain groups. We've—that's—we're looking at a possible constitutional violation in addition to just losing great candidates.

There's also a lot of microbarriers to entry in policing. There's very little research here, specifically in the policing context, but if you look at the Fire Department of New York (FDNY), for example, they did some research, and they found that when they removed the $30 application fee, they saw an over 80% increase in non-White and women applicants. We suspect that there are all sorts of those types of barriers in the police application process that have nothing to do with whether or not somebody's going to be good at the job, but end up disproportionately washing people out, because if you're already sort of from this underrepresented group, every kind of barrier to you going through that process is seen as just another unnecessary hurdle, and eventually you just disengage from the process altogether.


MAUREEN "MO" MCGOUGH: And of course, we've got the inescapable reality that, you know, the police profession is not really set up to equitably and appropriately support women's thriving within it. You know, we've got agencies who are working with who don't have a pregnancy policy, right?  We have women write to us and say, "I'm the work—I'm the first pregnant officer this agency has ever had. Can you help me write a policy statement?"  Same goes for nursing, you know, with women who are pumping breast milk in their cruisers because there's no facility at the—at their precinct. We've got women who've never had a ballistic resistant vest that fits. You know, and all those things send a particular message about whether or not this is a profession that knows, understands, and cares to meet your needs.

KAREN FRIEDMAN: Right. Very interesting. Yeah. So what are—what are the some of the ways that you think would be best to increase women in law enforcement?

MAUREEN "MO" MCGOUGH: So we have what we call together, it's called the 30x30 Pledge. And what we did is, you know, we took the research around the experiences of women in law enforcement, and we tried to understand what has worked in other industries that have gotten a lot closer to gender equity than we have in the U. S. police system, and how have other countries around the world tackled this in policing agencies. We spoke to folks at the London Met, or with the Queensland Police Service, New Zealand Police Forces on track to be 50/50 in the next year or two and we tried to figure out what works and what matters both to bring more women in the door, but to keep them there and appropriately serve them in the profession.

So we pulled together a list; I think it's about 46 action items at last count, and they're all known low-cost things that police departments can start doing to address some of those, sort of, causal factors that I just mentioned a bit ago. Things like providing designated nursing spaces, or reviewing recruitment strategies, or collecting better data around your assessment so that you can know whether you're having a disparate impact on different groups. And I will tell you, though, the thing that seems to make the most difference is whether the chief is getting out in front of the issue, regardless of their gender.

You know, we've seen a real, immediate impact when police leadership gets out in front, communicates to their communities where their prospective recruits are, and says, "I understand the unique value of women. I know the profession hasn't historically been great at this, but here are the proactive steps I'm taking to change the culture of our agencies so that you have a home here. "

KAREN FRIEDMAN: All right. So, Mo, critics may say that changes like the ones that you are suggesting may dilute or lower standards for law enforcement. What's your reaction to that?

MAUREEN "MO" MCGOUGH: Ooh, Karen, that question—that—that's one that just burns me up every time. So, you know, we've gotten near universal support from this. But there are people who fundamentally misunderstand what we're doing, how we're doing it, and why we're doing it. And those are the people that tend to levy those types of accusations. "Oh, you're lowering the standards of policing. “ You know, I got one very entertaining email when we first launched from someone—I'm assuming we can't curse on this podcast, but he said that, you know, "You were going to get people killed, you woke, B. " 

There's just this really visceral reaction for some people. And when I talk about things like we need to make physical fitness standards accurate, I think what people hear is, we need to make physical fitness standards easier. And that's not at all what we're proposing And if anything, if, say, the DOJ invested millions of dollars in creating, baseline, validated, physical fitness assessments for what it takes to be a fair and effective officer. And if women disproportionately failed that test, for one, I'd be surprised. But two, we wouldn't have an issue with that, right?  Our issue with the standards as they currently exist is that they haven't been validated for what's actually important in policing. And we know by the strength of the research, in terms of those outcomes that women are associated with, that when you start to have validated tests, we think women will do significantly better than they're currently doing. And if you look at our materials, you'll actually see nowhere in there do we say, "Go out and recruit a bunch of women," or, "Go out and promote a bunch of women. “ Instead, we just say, "Remove the inherent biases that you have in your systems and go promote and go recruit the people who have the knowledge, skills, and abilities to do the job well. “ And we're very confident that when people do that, they'll naturally see an increase in the representation of women who deserve to be there.

KAREN FRIEDMAN: Now, women have historically faced systemic barriers to careers in law enforcement such as toxic work cultures, sexism, and harassment. How is the 30x30 Initiative preparing workplaces to include women in law enforcement?

MAUREEN "MO" MCGOUGH: That is such an important question. And, you know, I mean, this is a very sobering thing. If you look at the research here, and it's—really, it needs to be replicated, there's a huge need for it—but, you know, the estimates are between 50 and 90 percent that women in law enforcement experience sexual harassment over the course of their career.

And it's interesting, when we first had a summit about this issue in 2018, when I was still at the U. S. Department of Justice, at the National Institute of Justice, we had over a hundred women from across the country in the room—everyone from women commissioners of major metro departments to women with six months on the job—to try to understand their experience and we knew what the research said about the prevalence of things like sexual harassment. But when we asked women in the room, "Have you personally experienced sexual harassment?"  Very few raised their hands, and we were surprised by that. But then when we asked the question a different way, when we broke out the elements of what constitutes sexual harassment, almost every hand went up. We tried to dive into that, but I think it's really hard when you're within the system, and you're trying to survive within it, to pick your head up and take a look around and really see, sort of, the problems that are baked into the structure that you're surviving in.

So addressing sexual harassment is one of our highest priorities, but I will tell you, I think it's the area where we are weakest in terms of evidence-based practices for what actually works and matters, right?  We, of course encourage, you know, sufficient reporting processes and their own investigations and protections against retaliation, and, you know, ensuring that people who report are appropriately protected. But I don't even think the private industry has figured out how to do this really, well yet. Policing is, you know, this microcosm of society, and I think in many ways, we're behind the curve on issues like this, but I think even if we got caught up, there would be a lot to be desired.

So we are turning more and more to our advisors in the private industry to see if we can get some guidance from HR professionals about other things we could integrate into current processes, but we've got a long way to go. You know, we had a summit this past September to really kick off this collaboration that we have with BJA thanks to Director Moore's leadership. And there was a woman there who is just one of the most impactful policewomen I've ever met. And I think she's early in her career. She started a nonprofit to support law enforcement officers who really care about racial equity and outcomes and diversity in the force. And she told the story about how she, who was by any measure just an exemplary officer, was told not to get her hopes up for promotion or for [a] successful career because she just didn't have the right parts for the job. And that was, you know, within last year or two. I think we assume that this is something of a bygone era, but it's in the groundwater, and it's been a really concerted effort to do something about it.

KAREN FRIEDMAN: How is the initiative working with different agencies to make sure that there is a focus on increasing the representation of women to promote a diverse and inclusive workplace?

MAUREEN "MO" MCGOUGH: You know, huge credit to BJA here, because we're seeing some real opportunities to use existing BJA structures to start to support this work at the state and local level. we launched, it's—it was really just a small group of us, there was myself, my cofounder, Ivonne Roman, and some other folks who got together on the margins of that first summit I mentioned—that tried to just launch this work on margins of our day jobs. So we got a small amount of money from Microsoft Justice Reform Initiative to build a website, so we look legit to the outside world. But, you know, we launched with barely anything in terms of support other than our own interests in answering questions agencies might have about how to do this well. You know, we were fortunate that one of the first agencies that signed this 30x30 Pledge that I mentioned earlier was the New York City Police Department. And I think that sent an important message to the field that this was real, and this was important, and it was something that people should pay attention to.

So, you know, we're now at over 300 agencies who participated in the pledge, including federal, state, local, university departments. And basically, what we do is, after they sign the pledge, we enter them into our community of practice. We do monthly webinars where we connect subject matter experts and researchers across the country to address critical issues, like how do you create a validated assessment?  What are some promising evidence-based practices for recruiting and retaining diverse employees?  That kind of thing. We send them newsletters where we have these, sort of, in-kind supports that private industry is giving us. So, you know, we get reserved seats at trainings for free for 30—women from 30x30 agencies, or free technology certifications for women from 30x30 agencies to help with the competitive promotional process.

But I think that the—and we're in the middle of looking at how BJA can really sort of beef up federal support for advancing gender equity in policing. But I think the most important thing that we offer these agencies is kind of cover to do the work. You know, so many people have said they've cared about it but just didn't know where to start, and you'll see on the pledge none of it is rocket science, right?  But people really need that top cover and that sort of unity, just do that peer-to-peer learning, and go at it together, especially our women in positions of power. It has, at least anecdotally, seemed much, much harder for women who are chiefs to advocate for gender equity. I'm not sure why. Maybe it's seen as self-interested or something like that. But this coalition of 300 agencies of all sizes, and scopes, and missions, and capacities, and geographic locations, it really gives people, I think a sense of community and shared investment in getting the work done, that is critical for them to be able to move the needle at all.

KAREN FRIEDMAN: So of these 300, do you have an idea of how their—how their needle is moving and how many of them are raising their percentages?

MAUREEN "MO" MCGOUGH: Yes. So we have regular reporting requirements. They—it gives updates in six-month increments. And, you know, we did not expect in the first couple of years to see a significant change in the representation of women. So much of what we talked about is a structural thing that takes a long time, you know, you got to relook at your assessments, you got to improve your data collection, you got to compare your data collection over years. You know, some people don't even have a recruit class except for what, once every year and a half, right?  But we are already seeing agencies that are at that 30 percent of women in their police recruit classes. We’ve got agencies who are doing it now. And there’s agencies that were very far from this when they started, and the reasons for that are all over the board, but like I said, I think one of the biggest reasons is when a chief gets out there and says, "This is my values. These are the—this is the culture I'm trying to create here. If you want to be part of the, sort of, a new version and vision for policing, join me. "

And people do, and it's not just women. And other things our agencies are improving their data collection around their assessment process and seeing things that where they're disproportionately impacting women, if they don't have anything to do whether they're good at the job, they change it. And, you know, they're retaining better people because of it.

We have other agencies that just realized there's a lot of subjectivity in the recruiting process. So, you know, when they finally had somebody who was their 30x30 in-house advocate start to look at the outcomes of some of those subjective hiring process—processes and seeing a real, sort of, disparate impact in women applicants, they, just by adding that extra layer of scrutiny, were able to increase the quality and the number of the women applicants who made it through the door.

So I think there’s so much reason for hope. I mean, you know, people push back on us all the time, right?  Three hundred agencies is incredible for the shoestring thing, but it’s also a drop in the bucket for the 18,000 agencies that exist this country. But I will tell you, I feel like we have every reason to hope because this is traction that is happening across the country and across agency size. And if we're able to make it work here with the minimal amount of funding we've gotten so far, I just can't even imagine what we're going to be able to do in five years.

KAREN FRIEDMAN: Well, we at BJA has—have a lot of hope because you're leading this effort.

MAUREEN "MO" MCGOUGH: Oh, thank you.

KAREN FRIEDMAN: And we have a lot of faith and confidence in you. And, Mo, thank you so much for joining us here today on Justice Today. Thank you for all the work you're doing to increase the representation of women in the police departments across the country, and just keep up the amazing work, and we just really appreciate you taking out time out of your really busy schedule to join me here today.

MAUREEN "MO" MCGOUGH: Karen, thank you so much. So grateful to BJA for so many things, but especially for, one, just allowing me to hang out with you because I'm a big fan, but two, for shedding light on this critical issue. I know there are so many things you could be featuring in this podcast, and it means a lot that you are choosing to, sort of, use your megaphone on this issue.

KAREN FRIEDMAN: Pleasure. Be well.