Correcting Gender Inequity in Police Departments

Officers and other members of New York Women in Law Enforcement’s Southern region at an April networking event at Peekskill Public Kitchen are (from top left) Cathy Johansen, VP (ret. Peekskill PD), Leila Molle (Rye PD), Khalia Carter (Peekskill PD), Rachel Danko (DEA), Theresa Wilson (NYPD), Diana Pizzuti, President (ret. NYPD); (from bottom left) Mary Hansen (New Castle PD), Pam Sgroi (Peekskill PD), Kristen Pizzuti (associate).

I’ve been a police officer since 1989, retiring from the City of Peekskill Police in 2013. Though it was a progressive department, being a female outsider wasn’t easy.  

There were undercurrents of stereotypical questioning of female abilities, and most men felt like protectors, not partners. The women in the department, though pleasant, were busy proving themselves and offered little help navigating this man-centric world.  

When I received a call in 2010 from one of the original board members of New York Women in Law Enforcement (NYWLE), I jumped at the chance to be involved in this newly created organization.  

We joked about how we never met in the 20 years that we were police officers, though we were 20 minutes apart. It brought home the isolation. Since then, I’ve chaired three training conferences and met many excellent officers from all over the state. I am now twice elected to the vice-president position and look forward to my second presidency in 2023. 

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In 2009, a group of law enforcement women realized that New York State did not have a central forum for law enforcement (LE) women to network with each other. There was, and still is, only one female officer in many departments, if at all. The isolation affects their ability to speak up for themselves, network for opportunities, receive appropriate training, advance in their careers, and gain a sense of belonging – all situations that are more accessible to men because of their numbers. Studies show it negatively affects women’s retention in policing.  

Surprisingly, there are still departments with no female representation. According to the NYS Division of Criminal Justice, there are approximately 64,000 police officers and troopers in our state, but only 16% (just over 10,000) are women. More than half of New York residents (10 million-plus) are women, according to the 2020 census.  

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At this year’s mid-year board meeting, we pledged to support the nationwide 30×30 Initiative and are looking for ways to help recruit and retain female law enforcement officers to bring that 16% to 30% female officers by 2030. 

Police officers are under intense scrutiny. They wonder if they will be second-guessed and vilified if they take too long to respond to a call, utter a wrong word, or use force. In an era when resignations are at an all-time high, I say to this generation of women, it’s time to step up. It’s a tough job but a necessary and significant one.  

If you are a police officer, consider joining NYWLE. The more members we recruit, the better the chance we will reach others and make a better and less formidable future for all women in law enforcement.  

New York Women in Law Enforcement (NYWLE) will hold its annual three-day training conference at the Woodcliff Hotel & Spa in Fairport, N.Y., on Oct. 26. Law enforcement officers can find information and register on our website at NYWLE.org. Not a member? Membership comes with benefits — discounts on all training opportunities; training you wouldn’t access anywhere else. Email us at: nywomeninlawenforcement@gmail.com. 

A Peekskill resident for 32 years, Cathy Johansen worked in the Peekskill Police Department 24 years. She is married to retired Peekskill Chief of Police Eric Johansen, and together, they raised three children. They are looking forward to celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary later this year. Aside from NYWLE, Cathy is also actively involved with the Peekskill Rotary Club and its many charitable works.

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About the Author: Cathy Johnson