When I started my research career at the University of California, Irvine in a PhD program in Social Ecology, everyone said to me, “You need to focus on something.” But the more I studied criminology, the more work I saw that could be done in different areas. Maybe I just have a short attention span, but there are so many aspects of criminology that I find compelling. Today, in my position as professor and director of the Criminal Justice Programs
in the School of Public Affairs
, I am especially fascinated by women in police work and women who commit crimes.
"Trying to turn the Titanic"
Police work remains a hypermasculine profession. Only 14 percent of police officers are women, and that number has been stagnant for a long time. Police departments, for example, typically exclude women from participating on SWAT teams, because many men don’t believe they can do the job. Also, you see few women as police chiefs. If transformation fails to occur from the leadership at the top, the masculine culture will continue to dominate at all levels. Changing the culture of policing is similar to trying to turn the Titanic; it will not happen easily. It’s going to take years of work.
But it’s a job worth doing, because women will bring a different approach to police work. Women process things differently, and they communicate differently. Some research suggests that female police officers are better at de-escalating tense situations. That theory is controversial, but blue is blue, and policewomen can do the same job as men. In some cases, females might be more effective officers in a variety of situations.
To give our local communities credit, Denver Police Department has done very well promoting women to positions like commander and division chief. Several years ago, Aurora Police Department appointed the first woman SWAT team commander in Colorado. That’s exciting, but it’s just a start.
"Nothing pink about it"
People are more reluctant to talk about my other area of interest—women who commit crimes—and I’m not sure why. Here’s the reality: there is no reason to believe that women are inherently better than men. Women are going to commit white-collar crime given the opportunity. This phenomenon was first identified in 1975. Later researchers labeled female offenders as “pink-collar criminals,” but there is nothing pink about it. As women increasingly rise to take traditionally male-dominated jobs, like CEO or CFO, we are going to see more women perpetrating white-collar crime. Right now, more than 50 percent of the cases of embezzlement in the United States are committed by women.
As we look at women who commit crimes, we are also examining victimology. In the past, we may have assumed that women are usually victims, especially in domestic violence situations. But that isn’t always the case. Studying women as perpetrators of crime may puncture myths about women as offenders—and as victims.
Published: August 6, 2012