Survey Finds Dearth of Women in Federal Law Enforcement

Federal agencies seem stuck in a gender time warp, according to Politico. In 1996, women held about 14 percent of the country’s federal law enforcement jobs. Today, the number is just 15 percent.

Despite expanding rapidly over the past two decades, federal law enforcement agencies remain almost as male-dominated as they were during the Clinton administration, according to a Politico survey. In 1996, women held about 14 percent of the country’s federal law enforcement jobs; today, they represent just 15 percent. From Customs and Border Protection to the Secret Service, males dominate the ranks in ways they no longer do across the rest of government or even many large police departments. On a percentage basis, there are now more female members of Congress than female officers at the DEA. The lowest ratio of all belongs to the Border Patrol, where just 5 percent of agents are female.

There is no conclusive evidence that women are better or worse at policing than men. Some studies have shown that women are less likely to be involved in police shootings or to prompt complaints, but most of those studies are dated and the sample sizes are very small. As most cops will tell you, training and supervision matter more than biology, and the variation between individuals is much greater than between genders. Beyond symbolism, these imbalances also raise questions about the competence of these agencies. At the most obvious level, female agents are needed to do invasive searches of women — a not-uncommon occurrence at the border in particular. In other agencies, female officers are critical for undercover work. Most importantly, any organization that fails to engage half the population in hiring is missing out on talent.