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As First-Ever Female WLPD Sergeant Retires, Problem Of Recruiting Female Officers Persists

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City of West Lafayette
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A recent report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics shows of the roughly 477,000 sworn police officers in the United States in 2013, only about one-in-eight were women.

That’s a 7% increase compared to 1987, but law enforcement experts say there’s a long way to go to recruit more women to the field.

Locally, the and Lafayette Police Department is slightly below the national average for jurisdictions of its size, while the West Lafayette Police Department is in line with similar departments.The Purdue Police Department is well ahead, with women occupying 20% of its police force.

Cindy Marion is the first female to achieve the rank of sergeant in the West Lafayette Police Department.

“One of my first days on the job I drove by one of the schools and some of the kids ran along the squad car yelling ‘It’s a girl cop! It’s a girl cop!’" says Marion. "And I thought ‘Oh my, what have I done?’”

Marion started her career as a police officer in Fowler, Indiana. She says after working as a dispatcher for a few years, she decided she wanted to become a patrol officer.

At the time, Marion didn’t have any female officers to look up to. But she says her desire to help people gave her the motivation to pursue law enforcement as a career.

In 1991, Marion joined the West Lafayette Police Department, which had three other female officers.

“I remember one night working street patrol, there was some kind of training going on, and it was only three females on the street working for the city," says Marion. "And that just felt really cool to be one of three women protecting West Lafayette. That was very unusual back then.”

And while the number of women in policing has increased in the quarter-century since Marion entered the profession, their numbers still lag well behind their male counterparts. According to a 2105 Bureau of Justice Statistics report on local police departments, as of 2013 roughly 12-percent of officers nationwide were women. That drops to around 9-percent for departments in smaller jurisdictions.

Catherine Sanz is the president of the Women in Federal Law Enforcement Foundation.

She says because there aren’t a lot of women in law enforcement, it’s not even on most girls’ radars as a possible career.

“We’ve actually started working with the Girl Scouts, and started trying to get to them at a younger age because we’re starting to find that college might be too late,” says Sanz.

She says the image of female officers portrayed on TV doesn’t help the recruitment effort.

“They’re, you know, terribly damaged," says Sanz. "You know, their mother was killed or they’re the product of rape or they’re this or they’re that. Nobody has a relationship because they’re married to their jobs. And that’s not who we are.”

Sanz says research shows women don’t inherently do a better or worse job policing than men, but they do go about the job differently.

“They did not problem-solve the same way the men did," says Sanz. "They were not aggressive. By their presence they started to deescalate a situation. They were much more communicative in not only dealing with serious situations but also in dealing with the victims of crime.”

West Lafayette Deputy Police Chief Chris Leroux says that’s definitely true of Cindy Marion.

“She has an uncanny knack with child victims and female victims," says Leroux. "I mean, she’s a very good investigator, and she does a very good job communicating with everybody. But she has a side of her, and I don’t know if it’s the sympathy she has or just a connection with those type of victims, that she does a fabulous job. And she gets information out of those types of cases that maybe I would never get.”

Leroux says in spite of having four long-time female officers on the force, including Marion -- who was the first to achieve the rank of sergeant -- the department still has a difficult time recruiting women. He says they’ve only hired three women since Marion, and only one of those is still with the department.

“It takes a special kind of person who wants to work, you know, midnights and shift work, and to do this type of career where you never really know what’s next," says Leroux. "You know, we’re very fortunate here on the West side that the pay is good. But you’re not going to get rich. And it probably takes a unique person that wants to work alongside a majority of men.”

Cindy Marion says she tries to encourage young women she meets to consider law enforcement as a career.

“Actually, I recently did a Citizens Academy and I connected with a young girl there who now wants to go into law enforcement," says Marion. "I’ve met up with her a couple of times to talk about it. It’s kind of fun to be able to mentor and be a support for other women in law enforcement.”

Marion says it’s important for women to realize they don’t have to be like men to be a police officer -- they can develop their own style based on their strengths and weaknesses.

“Sometimes I think we feel like we have to prove something, and to a degree we do, but we’re not going to approach the job the same as everybody else," says Marion. "Every officer I know has a different trait or value or characteristic that helps them do their job. That’s what really makes a difference is being able to bring our experiences to deal with people.”

Marion retired at the end of June after more than 24 years with the West Lafayette Police Department.

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