- Associated Press - Monday, February 13, 2017

ASHEVILLE, N.C. (AP) - When she started her career in Winston-Salem in 1995, “it was a man’s world,” for Asheville Police Sgt. Tammy Flanigan-Bryson.

A training officer once told her “I wasn’t worth the coffee I was going to pour for him every morning and the only thing that I was good for was staying at home and that kind of stuff.

“That for me made me more determined to prove him wrong,” Flanigan-Bryson said.

But in today’s world, men and women in law enforcement share the same drive to prove their worth, she said. Times have changed - as have the number of women wearing badges.

Of the 13 officers who make up the most recent graduating Basic Law Enforcement Training class for the Asheville Police Department, five are women. Of the department’s 210 officers, 35, or 17 percent, are women. The national average is 13 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Justice.

Police say they need more women on the force just like they need black, Hispanic and Latino officers - to show the community they can reach out to anyone and the department is open to everyone.

Some experts say women bring a different perspective to the job, while studies have found women have fewer use-of-force complaints against them since they tend to use talking over force.

As a national dialogue about female police officers has changed, more women are applying for jobs in law enforcement, said Flanigan-Bryson, who oversees recruitment for Asheville police.

Five women have applied for spots in the next two law enforcement training classes, she said.

Men also are less discriminating toward women in law enforcement, Flanigan-Bryson said. And women see law enforcement as a career where they can have opportunities for advancement. Asheville, for example, has a female chief of police.

Women rarely applied for the job when John DeCarlo was a city police chief from 2007-11 in Connecticut, he said.

Fewer women applied for police work in part because of physical requirements that have since been found less relevant, said DeCarlo, who has 34 years of police experience and is an associate professor of criminal justice at the University of New Haven.

Anyone wanting to become an officer must pass a physical test that puts a lot of emphasis on upper body strength, he said. “A lot of things that we test for actually exclude women.”

“If you look at state agencies they were looking for big males,” he said. “The biggest challenge for females was to break that blue ceiling to compete with the jobs and convince the status quo in the department that they were every bit as qualified as their male counterpart.”

But as society has changed, policing is no longer only about physical force. Some situations require talking to people and brainstorming solutions.

“It’s a matter of changing the paradigm and the status quo. Letting (women) know it doesn’t have to be a male-dominated profession,” he said.

The job is difficult for everyone, Flanigan-Bryson said.

“As a female, I can say it gets hard, but it’s not any harder than it is for a white male,” she said. “It’s hard for everyone.”

When Flanigan-Bryson travels to recruit she says she looks for people who are passionate about the job.

“Most anyone can do this job, but is it something that you truly want to do?” she asked.

For Morgan Smith, 22, one of APD’s new recruits, going into a career traditionally dominated by men was always in her plan.

Smith, a native of Bristol, Tennessee, and from a military family, always wanted to go into the military. But after spending her undergraduate years at East Tennessee State in the ROTC program majoring in criminal justice, she ended up applying for some law enforcement positions when the opportunity arose, she said.

“I’ve always wanted to do a service-oriented job,” she said. “This definitely wasn’t a backup plan. I just didn’t imagine I would get the opportunity as quickly as I did.”

Smith tested and applied in 2015 to be a police officer in Asheville. Once she was offered the position she turned down active duty, and instead signed an eight-year contract with the Tennessee National Guard.

Smith said she was drawn to Asheville’s department because it has opportunities for growth and it’s a community she wanted to join.

It’s also an agency that has several women on the force in positions ranging from patrol officers all the way up to the chief, which was unusual for Smith to see, she said.

“At least where I’m from I’ve never seen a female police chief,” Smith said. “It’s not traditional and I think Asheville as a city is more open-minded.”

Media representation of female cops has also changed to let young women know this is a viable career opportunity for them, DeCarlo said.

“There was a time where there was a show called ‘Police Woman’ and that was the only representation of a female police officer,” he said. “Now you look at TV shows with police officers and you have a lot more women represented.”

As Smith has spent the past five months training, she said she wasn’t faced with challenges simply because she is a woman.

Gender or skin color of a fellow officer doesn’t matter within the agency, she said.

“The quality of a person isn’t defined by whether it’s a man or woman doing the job,” Smith said.

The women and men on the force work hard and are inclusive to other officers, she said. “It’s an extension of brotherhood, of law enforcement.”

Retired APD officer Rondell Lance Jr., who started his career with the city in 1988, said he worked with women throughout his career and never distinguished between genders.

“In the line of work we just see an officer; doesn’t matter if they’re male or female,” he said. “We’re all police officers.”

He added that traditionally in the South he knew of men with an older mindset who thought women shouldn’t be in law enforcement, but recently seeing women on the force is more common and women are putting in applications more frequently.

In APD’s recent graduating Basic Law Enforcement Training class, the agency not only had five women, but also two Hispanic officers and an officer who speaks Russian, which represents a national police trend.

“We are now starting to see a national dialogue about diversity in policing,” DeCarlo said. “It goes beyond ethnicity and gender. We will start to see a narrative of diversity across the board.”

Going forward, Flanigan-Bryson said she hopes to recruit officers who represent different backgrounds to show the community “that we’re reaching out to all the diverse communities that we have.”

The department is open to everyone, she said.

“It’s not just one sex that can get a position,” Flanigan-Bryson said. “We just want everyone to know that we need everybody and we’d love to have anyone.”


Information from: The Asheville Citizen-Times, https://www.citizen-times.com

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