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In A Different Force

Nancy Leong

Highly publicized instances of law enforcement brutality, many captured on video or audio, have prompted calls for reform from many sides. Some departments have attempted to address police officers’ use of excessive force by improving the racial diversity of their departments or by appointing people of color to positions of authority. Yet policymakers and researchers have paid less attention to the possible influence of gender diversity.

Research indicates that, in the aggregate, female police officers approach their jobs differently than men. In particular, while they are equally likely to use routine force, female officers are less likely to use excessive force. Complementing these data, female police officers cost their employers less money in excessive force settlements and judgments. And female officers report more positive views of the communities and individuals they serve.

While policymakers should not rely on either essentializing stereotypes or biological generalizations, the difference in the way that men and women are socialized has real consequences for the way female officers engage in policing activities. Police forces should reconsider traditional obstacles to female officers’ participation and should actively recruit women in an effort to increase the number of women on police forces.