After nearly a century of women in the police force, the Historic Triangle still reflects the gender imbalance that sweeps the nation.
In York County, James City County and the City of Williamsburg, women represent less than a quarter of officers, with York County at the lowest with only 11 percent female representation, according to a report from Virginia State Police in 2017.
A study from the U.S. Department of Justice showed that this is similar to the national average, which in 2013 was a mere 12 percent.
But some police departments in the Historic Triangle are taking action to change those numbers.
“We’re here to protect our community but we also want to represent its diversity,” said Stephanie Williams, spokeswoman for James City County Police.
In 2017, JCC Police started to more aggressively recruit women and minority officers by creating a recruitment team made of diverse officers. The team travels to jobs fairs at colleges and military bases to encourage people of varying genders and races to apply.
Williams also is a member of the recruitment team with JCC Police and she said having women on the team helps connect with women interested in policing but who might have hesitations.
“We aren’t speaking differently to them than we would anyone else,” Williams said. “It’s about being present and showing them ‘Hey you can do this and here’s proof.’”
While the department only had 18 percent female officers last year, this year their efforts have resulted in hiring three new female officers.
Williamsburg boasts the highest number of female officers at 25 percent and is also working to raise that number, said Maj. Donald Janderup. Employment advertisements from the Williamsburg Police Department are regularly posted on the National Minority Update page and Officer Aundrea Holiday also heads their recruitment team.
Williamsburg Police also specifically encourages women to apply and prepare for leadership positions within the department by making sure women are part of their Promotional Board or Oral Review Board.
“I can’t recall ever having a board without at least one female on it,” Janderup said. “It’s important for us to have a diverse oral review board.”
As a result some of the women have been promoted to positions such as lieutenant or deputy chief.
In the York-Poquoson Sheriff’s Office, Capt. Troy Lyons said there aren’t any initiatives specifically targeted at recruiting female officers.
But in their last hiring process earlier this year, the department garnered 123 applications for three positions. In the end, two of the three positions went to women.
“Whether they’re male or female, it makes no difference,” Lyons said. “We judge applications based on who is the most qualified.”
When an application is submitted, the sheriff’s office does not receive information on an applicant’s gender, age or race — this information is voluntary.
Having programs in place to recruit more women helps a law enforcement agency not only reflect their community, but prevent higher numbers of excessive force reports and complaints, according to a study from the National Center for Women & Policing.
The 2002 study shows the average male officer is over eight-and-a-half times more likely than a female officer to have an allegation of excessive force against them.
“The average woman on patrol is significantly less likely to use excessive force…and as a consequence she exposes the citizens to less abuse and the department to less civil liability,” the report said.
WYDaily Assistant Editor Sarah Fearing contributed reporting.