ALBUQUERQUE -- The Albuquerque Police Department's efforts to increase its female police presence are starting to pay off.
A record number of 14 women enrolled last week in the police academy. Three dropped out the first week, but if the remaining 11 graduate, it will tie as the largest class of female academy graduates.
APD still has some catch-up to do. There are no women who hold a rank above lieutenant, there was only one woman in the last academy class to graduate, and 13.5 percent of the department is made up of women.
According to FBI statistics, the national average for women in law enforcement in cities larger than 250,000 people is 18.3 percent.
The department wants to change that. Police Chief Ray Schultz has said he wants 25 percent of his department to be composed of female officers.
To accomplish that, APD has been targeting women in its recruiting advertisements and holding special events such as last spring's women's fitness challenge.
Police officials say the record-setting class is a sign of their efforts.
"Law enforcement has a reputation of being a male-dominated culture, and we are trying to change that culture," Deputy Chief of Police Michael Castro said. "I want to get as many females interested in a law enforcement career that I can. I want to make this a very inviting career for them."
There are subtle differences at the academy. The men, for example, have to shave off all their hair, while the women can't wear their hair below their collars.
And there are indications that the academy is not used to this many women. There are few female instructors, a bullet proof vest used in a recent demonstration was designed for men, and the women's locker rooms are half the size of the men's. "We have to look out for each other - men and women - if we want to get through this," cadet Samantha Miles said.
Miles, 21, was a criminal justice student in South Dakota browsing the Internet looking for jobs for when she graduated. She saw that APD was offering hiring bonuses, had a wellrespected academy and was trying to get more women in the ranks. That was enough for her to fill out an online application.
She had never been to Albuquerque until several weeks ago when she had to
take a series of tests. And when she moved to the Duke City two weeks ago to begin the academy, it was only her third trip to New Mexico. She is from a town of 500 people. "The big city is what's so different for me," she said. "I have always been in a man's work. I used to work construction. I have always done things that weren't expected of me."
The women at the academy come form diverse backgrounds. Ages range from 21 to 55, and they come from across the country. The female cadets have been everything from former college students, soldiers and a records clerk. Taren Smith recently finished a four-year stint with the Marines. Originally from Flint, Mich., the mother of one decided
to move to Albuquerque two years ago because her father retired to Albuquerque and she really enjoyed the community. She did two tours in Iraq. "So far, I think this is harder than Marine Corps boot camp," Smith, 25, said. "All of us females have come together, and we all want to help each other out and get through it."