DC seeks to increase number of female police officers on force

The District says it has joined a nationwide pledge to increase the percentage of female officers on its police force to 30% by 2030, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and the D.C. police department announced Monday.

At a news conference Monday morning at the Washington, D.C. Harbor Patrol in Southwest, D.C. Police Chief Robert J. Contee said, “We are pledging to increase the number of female officers and continue to make MPD the most equitable agency for women in the law enforcement field.”

The proposed increase is part of a national initiative called the 30×30 Pledge, which aims to increase representation of women in police departments nationwide to 30% by 2030 and ensure supportive policies for women in those departments. Approximately 150 departments nationwide have signed onto this pledge.

Also at the event, Officer McKenna Watson, a District native, spoke of how she came to join the ranks of MPD.

“There was an officer who would come to our school weekly, who saw that I had more to give … They suggested I look into joining the Metropolitan Police Department,” Watson said. “Almost 19 years later, I look back and I know I made the best decision for my career.”

Watson added, “We represent many positions in the department. We are public information officers. We are mountain bike officers. We are motor officers. We are negotiators. We are harbor officers. We are patrol officers. We are sergeants, lieutenants, captains, inspectors, commanders and assistant chiefs. And, with the 30×30 pledge, we will continue to grow and allow generations after us to be even more.”

According to the FBI, in 2018 (the last time statistics were released),12.6% of law enforcement officers in U.S. agencies and local police departments were women. Only 3% of leadership positions in law enforcement were occupied by women.

D.C. fares slightly better than the national average, with women making up nearly 23% of officers on its police force.

The D.C. department’s most recent incoming recruit class was 52% women — all D.C. natives — and the current Cadet Corps is 47% women, according to a news release from Bowser’s office.

The announcement comes at a time when Bowser is expected to present her new budget to the D.C. Council, requesting funds to boost MPD staffing levels to 4,000 officers, up from slightly over 3,500. The mayor is expected to meet resistance for the increase.

In 2020, the D.C. Council imposed a hiring freeze on MPD.  At present, 3,550 officers are currently serving the District, the lowest number in more than two decades.

“The chief’s job is to tell me, and the Council, and the people of the District of Columbia what it’s going to take to keep us safe,” Bowser said. “The budget that I will present to the council will put us on the path to the number of officers that we need to certainly deal with the spike in crime that we are having.”

In a news release, Bowser stated that recruitment and the District’s Cadet Corps program was essential to MPD’s success.

“The program allows us to attract and retain D.C. residents to be D.C. police, especially women,” Bowser said in the release. “As we grow MPD back to 4,000 officers, we are proud to highlight the important work of women at MPD and to invite more women in the community to join them.”

The department is currently hiring for a chief equity officer, who will be “responsible for guiding efforts and creating opportunities to define, assess, and promote diversity and inclusion initiatives within and across all MPD offices, bureaus, and divisions,” the release said.

Police departments that take part in the 30×30 pledge are asked to share information with one another about their successes and challenges increasing representation.

MPD says it is conducting focus groups with the Police Executive Research Forum with the goal of having “frank discussions with members about what MPD is doing well in the sphere of inclusion and diversity,” according to the release.

D.C. police officials say they are also “reviewing internal practices such as discipline, use of force reviews, promotional processes, and selections for special assignments,” according to the release.

The announcement on the 30×30 Pledge comes as the D.C. police department is facing a multimillion-dollar lawsuit from current and former female officers claiming racial and sexual discrimination.

One of the officers involved with the suit, Assistant Chief Chanel Dickerson, spoke at the news conference and was asked if she would recommend the department as a career path for young women.

“Absolutely,” Dickerson said. “The Metropolitan Police Department cadet program and MPD changed the trajectory of my life.”

In the news release, Contee said taking the 30×30 pledge is “important to women and girls around the country who are watching and saying to themselves, ‘I too can be a police officer in Washington, D.C.’”

“The Metropolitan Police Department may have already hit the 30% goal, but we will not stop there,” Contee said. “I am eager to take part in and see the change this initiative will bring to MPD and to our city.”

WTOP’s Matthew Delaney and Shayna Estulin contributed to this report.

Joshua Barlow

Joshua Barlow is a writer, composer, and producer who has worked for CGTN, Atlantic Public Media, and National Public Radio. He lives in Northeast Washington, D.C., where he pays attention to developments in his neighborhood, economic issues, and social justice.

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