A Covering Crime Special Report: The changing face of law enforcement

Women are roughly half of society, which means that they should make up about half of any given career field, but that’s not always the case.

Women in law enforcement careers are still far out-numbered by their male counterparts.

In this special report, we’re looking at a woman’s role through the eyes of three different females in the field; from the guts, to the guns, and the glory, and ultimately; the gender.

Almost anyone you ask in law enforcement will tell you it takes a certain kind of person to do their job, and like any job, there are challenges.

“We, in this field see a lot of the bad things that are happening in society that a lot of people aren’t aware of,” says Riverland Community College Criminal Justice Instructor, Steve Wald.

What about doing the job in a profession typically seen as male-dominated ?

In this day and age, is there still prejudice against women in the law enforcement field?

I wanted to find out, by meeting with three different women at different levels in their field.

Shannon Norton is a student at Riverland, enrolled in the criminal justice program.

She’s training in tactics, and even does crime scene investigating inside a scenario room. It looks like the real deal, complete with victims and evidence.

This is a dream job for Shannon, and her petite frame won’t get in the way of that.

“You’re dropped to the floor just as much as the next male, and you learn how to handle yourself. I wouldn’t have it any other way,” she explains.

Wald is Shannon’s instructor, He tells us it’s common for women to think this is a job they can’t do because of their size.

“There is the physical aspect, but what we teach here is the way you use your words, and how you carry yourself and present yourself can go so much farther than your physical presence,” Wald explains.

Male and female students receive the same training in the law enforcement program at Riverland Community College in Austin.

Times have changed in the industry and women are now a vital part of the force. When Wald started instructing 11 years ago, he recalls only 5 female students in the program.

“Now we’re almost at 25% female, and the majority of them are on the law enforcement side of it. The calls aren’t going to change out there based on if they’re a female or male. The physical part isn’t going to change, so we treat them the same,” he adds.

Are women officers treated the same in say, a county jail

“It’s not a very rewarding job because people don’t want to be here, they don’t want to be in jail,” says Officer Jaimie Groven.

Groven has been a correctional officer for more than a decade. She took me behind the walls of the Cerro Gordo County Jail, where on a day-to-day basis she interacts with female and male inmates.

“Being a smaller female, sometimes people ask, “how do you do it?” You just do, that’s part of your job, you learn how to deal with them,” she says.

Groven says from time to time she will run into inmates who treat her differently because of her sex. But, for the most part she’s not intimidated.

A female officer is required on the floor every day, but regardless, Groven believes women are fairly represented in her county.

“We’re still under represented I would believe,” explains Sheriff Terese Amazi with the Mower County Sheriff’s Office.

Amazi is a trailblazer when it comes to women in law enforcement. Twelve years ago she was the first female sheriff elected in the state of Minnesota, but running for the office did come with its fair share of criticism.

“When I was running the first time, there were some things said and I haven’t reminded those individuals of what they said, and I won’t until maybe I leave here. But certainly some comments that were uncalled for,” explains Amazi.

If some doubted her abilities in the past, that’s likely changed now after being re-elected time and time again.

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the percent of female officers in local police departments increased from 7%  in 1987 to 12%  female officers in 2007.

State police departments also increased the percent of sworn in officers who were women, at a bit of a slower rate.

While still a minority, times are changing, and many departments across our viewing area are hiring males and female officers.

Sheriff Amazi believes her position, is an honor, and that women who want to get into the field shouldn’t let stereotypes stop them.

“You can do what you put your mind to’ you’re your biggest drawback.”

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