FEATURED IN LIFELINE TRAINING
I vividly remember the day my academy class was issued duty gear. The forty-or-so of us dutifully arrived at the city’s quartermaster unit and lined up alphabetically. We were handed brown grocery bags with one-size-fits-all gear. This included magazine pouches, handcuff cases, OC spray holders, baton holsters and belt keepers. We proceeded from one issue counter to the next, maintaining our alphabetical order. After collecting the assigned gear, we returned to the academy where we sat in assigned seats, in assigned classrooms and were guided by assigned, yet experienced, instructors in the proper placement of items on our duty belts. The same held true for our uniforms. As soon as we were sized, we learned the proper placement of patches, pins, name tags and of course, the badge. Everything supplied had a purpose and a place.
Our instruction progressed from the reasons for our equipment to officer purpose and placement. As a recruit, I learned how to position when interviewing people, where to stand when conducting felony traffic stops and how to approach doors and hallways. In addition, I discovered everything is assigned—gear, cars and even ourselves. I drove an assigned car, on an assigned beat, at an assigned station, in an assigned district. Everything in an officer’s life was regimented and organized, filed and placed. It seemed as though the public safety officials had thought of everything! Well, almost everything.
The Start of a New Cycle
My first day of patrol following graduation, I inspected myself in the mirror. My uniform was squared away, ironed with military creases and free of lint. My belt was organized and everything was in its place. My gun was clean and my boots were polished. I was ready to start—and that I did, in more ways than one. My first day in patrol was also the first day of my cycle. My monthly visitor. My friend. My period.
In the eight months of training I received at the academy—the eight months in which I was given an answer to every question and told how to respond in every event—no one ever told me where to put the pads. Imagine my shock. Periods aren’t a new thing in women’s lives, and women aren’t a new thing in law enforcement. In all the orders, standards and procedures provided by various training officers, not one person—not a single one—told me where to put the pads. I was about to hit the streets and prove myself as a cop, but I had nowhere to store the hygiene products I needed for the next three days.
Women in Law Enforcement
Although equal opportunity laws have provided women a place in law enforcement for almost 40 years, law enforcement is still trying to find a place and purpose for them. Progressive politics would argue that the mere presence of females in the profession means women have reached equal footing with men. But, that isn’t completely true.
From the numbers of women in the field, to gear and equipment based on the male model, women haven’t quite gained full entry into the police world. Often, female recruits must alter their tactics, behavior and attitudes to fit the male model of policing. Every day of my eight months in police training provided me with skills and knowledge about policing. In patrol, police training and police culture taught me to apply that knowledge to become a better officer. Almost all that training was provided by men—most of them highly competent and accepting.
However, in all that time no one mentioned menstruation or pregnancy, childbirth or children. No one talked about marriage, divorce or homosexuality (except as occasional off-color jokes) and how they played out in the law enforcement profession. There were probably many reasons for this, and I’m not attaching any evil intent. But male instructors, male bosses, male partners aren’t emotionally or psychologically geared for such conversations. And why would they be?
In reality, women make up approximately 20% of sworn officers. We work alongside men following rules and guidelines created by men. And men aren’t naturally inclined to have conversations about menstruation, maxi-pads and tampons. Hell, they probably think they aren’t even allowed to have these discussions.
These issues, however, are ever present in women’s lives and women are a forever presence in the world of law enforcement. We as women, especially as we climb the ranks, need to contribute to cultural change and go beyond general acceptance as members of our profession. We should begin to address real issues, issues as simple as where you put the pads and as complex as training for body type. If we can find a spot to put the pads, accept that general differences exist and learn to address uncomfortable issues openly, we will then create collective cultures that embrace the diversity that will contribute to organizational successes.