By Michael Nam
Understandably, the Justice Department focused heavily on the racial disparity in its recent, and damning, investigation of the Ferguson Police Department. However, the report also details a glaring gender gap in the personnel makeup of the police force. In footnotes under a section titled “Ferguson’s Lack of a Diverse Police Force Further Undermines Community Trust,” the report points out the striking lack of women police officers.
“While the emphasis in Ferguson has been on racial diversity, FPD also, like many police agencies, has strikingly disparate gender diversity,” the report said. “In Ferguson, approximately 55% of residents are female, but FPD has only four female officers.”
The investigators go on to relate that they “received many complaints about FPD’s lack of gender diversity as well,” a problem that potentially stems from the footnote immediately beneath the previous note.
“While not the focus of our investigation, the information we reviewed indicated that Ferguson’s efforts to retain qualified female and Black officers may be compromised by the same biases we saw more broadly in the department,” DOJ investigators wrote. “In particular, while the focus of our investigation did not permit us to reach a conclusive finding, we found evidence that FPD tolerates sexual harassment by male officers, and has responded poorly to allegations of sexual harassment that have been made by female officers.”
Sexual harassment has been shown to derail or greatly discourage women from careers that tend to have a tolerance for such behavior. In a recent Cosmopolitan story about workplace sexual harassment, Noreen Farrell, Executive Director of Equal Rights Advocates, elaborates. “If you’re forced out of a job because you’re sick of your boss making comments, it impacts your earnings and your ability to get promotions,” she said. “People tend to leave work rather than have to put up with it.”
The Ferguson report indicates that there may be a great deal more to be done to combat biased police practices in the municipality. The footnotes appear to hint at a problem as deeply entrenched as the police department’s racial bias, and the importance of the report goes beyond demanding racially diverse hiring changes alone. Rather, the transformation of policing in Ferguson requires a “broader reform effort” that includes addressing the gender imbalance as well.