Deputy Chief of Mission, Elizabeth Rood’s Speech at the Women in Policing Conference (March 6)

Deputy Chief of Mission Elizabeth Rood

I feel very honored today to address 250 police officers representing 13 countries.  As a woman who has raised a family while pursuing a career, like many of you, I know the challenges of doing two full-time jobs at once. Yet your positions as police officers place additional burdens on you at work and at home, requiring you to intervene, console, and protect other families while also maintaining peace within your community.  I deeply admire the dedication, skills and enthusiasm you bring to both these tasks.

You have gathered in Tbilisi with your peers to continue your professional training, this year focused on the 21st Century Policing initiative.  This project began in the United States during 2015 in response to civil unrest and a public outcry against the perceived actions of American law enforcement.  In a series of high profile incidents involving law enforcement use of force, police were severely criticized, their relationships with communities eroded, and trust between the police and public strained.  In an effort to combat these deteriorating relationships, a task force of practitioners, academics, and citizens identified six critical areas that the law enforcement profession needed to address to restore law enforcement legitimacy.

This blue ribbon panel spent months identifying these critical areas of concern.  Had the committee first studied law enforcement’s origins they would have discovered that in 1829 the architect of modern policing, Sir Robert Peele, set forth nine principles for policing for the first metropolitan police force.  The nine principles encompass the six critical areas of concern identified by the 21st Century Policing program.

Important to your training here, I would like to focus on two of these critical areas of policing:  Legitimacy, and Crime Prevention and Reduction.  Sir Robert Peele identified those as Principles #1 and #2.  He said, “The basic mission for which the police exist is to prevent crime and disorder.”  He continues with his most famous advice: “Police, at all times, should maintain a relationship with the public … the police are the public and the public are the police.”

Why is this important in this forum?

It has been well understood that the engagement and participation of women in peacekeeping and security is fundamental to its success.  United Nations Resolution 1324 recognizes:  “The important role of women in the prevention and resolution of conflicts … peacekeeping … humanitarian response and in post-conflict reconstruction and stresses the importance of their equal participation and full involvement in all efforts for the maintenance and promotion of peace and security.”

Research of the Institute for Inclusive Security also tells that when women are included in a peace agreement, it is 35 percent more likely to last more than 15 years.  This Institute has more to tell us about the central role of women in peace and security:

  • Women bridge ethnic, religious, and political divides;
  • Women recognize warning signs of violence;
  • Women have their finger on the pulse of what is happening in their communities;
  • Women have access where men do not;
  • Women know what the solutions are;
  • And – most important to us today – women improve the effectiveness of security forces.

For these reasons, your responsibilities as protectors of your communities go beyond ensuring public safety.  You promote the healthy economic and social growth of your communities.

Even with this understanding, there are still challenges to the full participation of women in law enforcement. The National Center for Women & Policing notes the percentage of women in law enforcement remains under 15 percent, while women comprise only 11% of executive management positions.  Since the staffing of the police department, to a large extent, defines the culture of the organization and reflects the cultural values of the community, shouldn’t the culture be inclusive, providing a cross section of skills and abilities to address quality of life and criminal issues?

When women are excluded from employment or assignment, the agency and the community suffer.  As Malala Yousafzai so eloquently stated: “We cannot all succeed when half of us are held back”

Twenty years of exhaustive research demonstrates that women police officers use a style of policing less reliant on physical force and more focused on communication skills that defuse potentially violent situations.  For this reason, women police offices are less likely to be involved in police brutality that erodes the public trust[1].  Female officers are less likely to use deadly force.  Female officers are more inclined to be empathetic to people.  Finally, women officers are much more likely to respond effectively to police calls regarding violence against women.

On September 12, 1910 Alice Stebbins became the first woman police officer in America and served for 30 years in Los Angeles, California.  Before that there were females in police organizations, but she was the first “officer” who had the authority to respond to crimes, perform investigations, and make arrests.  She blazed a path for you to follow, not accepting the status quo and not asking for anything that was not due her.  All she wanted was a chance:

a chance to wear the badge;

a chance to protect women and children;

and a chance to serve.

She was a woman of strength and conviction.

As [who?] said, “(Any) woman with a voice is, by definition, a strong woman. But your search to find that voice can be remarkably difficult.”  So I challenge you, this week to listen, learn, share, and rediscover why you chose this profession. You are among peers at a training designed specifically for you with the goal of “Empowering, Educating and Inspiring” you to succeed.

During this week I want you find your voice and summon your strength. We have on the Supreme Court of the United States a woman judge, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who is loved in our country for the wise and honest things she says.  One thing she said was, “If you’re going to change things, you have to be with the people who hold the levers.”  As law enforcement officers, you hold the levers of power to shape your communities and direct the future of your profession.

Therefore, when you leave here, I call upon you to use your power to demand your equal seat everywhere that matters:

A seat in the classroom to learn the skills you need to serve your community.

A seat in the patrol car to provide immediate assistance to your neighbors.

A seat at the investigative desk to investigate crimes and bring closure to victims.

A seat at the management desk to use your skills, experience and training to lead your organization to obtain and maintain legitimacy while disrupting crime.

I look out on this group and know that I see dedicated police officers who have devoted themselves to stand between violence and society.  I feel stronger knowing that your countries, your cities, and your neighborhoods are protected by professionals like you.

You are the real heroes of the world.