The NIU Department of Police and Public Safety is building on its longtime commitment to diversity by signing on to the 30 x 30 Pledge, an effort by law enforcement agencies across the nation to increase the number of sworn female police officers in their ranks to 30%.
By signing the pledge, the department commits to reporting on its efforts to identify and address the obstacles that women officers face, starting with recruitment and throughout their careers. NIU Police will also be able to draw on the experiences and expertise of the more than 50 departments across the country which, as participants in the initiative, agree to collaborate and share best practices to help attract and retain women officers.
Departments that participate agree to:
- Take measures to increase the representation of women in all ranks of law enforcement.
- Ensure that policies and procedures are free of all bias.
- Promote equitable hiring, retention and promotion of women officers.
- Promote a culture that is inclusive, respectful and supportive of women in all ranks and roles.
“My entire career, I have always been concerned about diversity and equity in law enforcement – whether it be color, gender, socioeconomic or educational diversity,” said NIU Acting Chief of Police Darren Mitchell. “Having different people with different experiences and backgrounds is imperative, and it is important that the composition of the force reflect the community you serve. Since half the world’s population is made up of women, it only makes sense that having more women on your force would have a positive impact.”
Research cited by the organizers of the 30 x 30 Pledge demonstrates that adding women officers has many benefits. Women officers are less likely to use force; are named in fewer complaints and lawsuits; and are perceived as being more honest and compassionate. Women officers also typically see better outcomes for victims of crime, especially in sexual assault cases.
NIU is actually well on its way to meeting the 30% goal, as 24% of the department’s sworn officers are women, which is twice the national average.
“Our department has always shared the university’s commitment to equity and inclusion,” said Mitchell, whose goal is to exceed the 30% benchmark. “We’ve established a long history with having one of the most diverse rosters of any police department in the region but there are always things you can improve and areas where we can get better.”
The effort to attract women to the force is not new for NIU, said NIU Patrol Officer Junelle Bennett. A holder of three NIU degrees (most recently a doctorate in Adult and Higher Education), she was completing work on her master’s in public health in 2012 when Mitchell suggested that she consider policing as a career. After some hesitance, she looked into it, and has no regrets over choosing that path.
“Women are needed in this profession because we have a different skill set, a more nurturing spirit,” she said. “Many people believe that policing is all about enforcement, but it also involves working with the community, educating, even acting as a counselor sometimes until a real counselor can show up.”
That skill set is particularly important when dealing with women, she said. “It is a matter of representation – it’s difficult for people to believe you can empathize with them if you don’t have shared experiences.”
As an officer at NIU, Bennett feels she has been well supported as she has progressed over the past nine years. She recently returned to duty after having her first child and was delighted to find that departmental policies that accommodated her needs as a nursing mother had been updated and all was in order when she resumed work. She also praised the department’s flexibility in scheduling for officers who are also caregivers.
Bennett has taken advantage of training opportunities within the department – from SWAT to evidence technician – and will soon prepare to become a field training officer for new recruits. She hopes one day that her breadth and depth of experience can help her earn a leadership role within the department, which would fulfill another goal of 30 x 30 to boost the number of women in such roles.
Mitchell plans to continue consulting with Bennett and the other women in the department about the challenges specific to female officers and find ways to overcome those hurdles. He also plans to enlist them in the effort to recruit more women to join the NIU police force.
“We have some incredibly talented and committed female officers in our department who are equally dedicated to this very important initiative,” Mitchell said. “I know they will continue to be our best advocates and convey to potential female recruits the opportunities that policing holds for women and how the empathy and emotional intelligence they bring can help us better serve our community.”