The case for more women cops

Former assistant chief starts company devoted to women in policing

Former Minneapolis Police Department Assistant Chief Kris Arneson and Charlie Adams, commander of the Community and Collaborative Advancement Division, speak at the Black Forest Inn Dec. 5.

A former assistant chief of the Minneapolis Police Department wants to see more women become cops, and she has a few ideas to fix what’s holding them back.

After retiring in April, Kris Arneson recently spoke to the League of Women Voters. The MPD’s first three female officers joined the force in 1975, she said.

“The question was, could we actually do the job? Many thought we couldn’t, that we wouldn’t last a whole career of 25 years, or we would be beat up and quit,” Arneson said. “That we couldn’t be tough enough. And yet, America has never needed female cops more.”

She said women almost never use excessive force, although they do apply regular force like takedowns or restraints at the same rates as men. She said women are less likely to fire a gun. In a Pew Research Center survey released in early 2017, 30 percent of men said they had fired a weapon while on duty, compared to 11 percent of women.

In 2016, women in the MPD were two-thirds less likely to use force, Arneson said, while men received 90 percent of Internal Affairs complaints related to use of force. But women can be equally strong and effective, she said — MPD men and women who used force in 2016 caused injuries to suspects at the same rate, she said.

Arneson said most police work is nonviolent, involving service activities and problem solving.

“Physical strength does not predict officer effectiveness,” she said.

One 1988 analysis found that women were better able to defuse potentially violent situations, she said. In addition, women victims of crimes like rape and domestic assault feel more comfortable talking to women officers, she said.

Barriers in recruiting

Women cops in Minneapolis rose above 16 percent in 2013, Arneson said, and have since declined to 14 percent.

To understand why women are joining the force in fewer numbers, Arneson took a close look at recruiting practices.

Officers undergo a fitness pre-test before hiring, she said, although there is no annual fitness test for existing officers. The last three pre-hire tests involved about 465 MPD applicants, and 81 were women. Of recruits applying with a degree in law enforcement, men failed the physical fitness test at 43 percent, and women failed at 74 percent. Of those applying as community service officers, men and women both failed the test at about 46 percent. Of those applying as cadets, men failed the test at 52 percent and women failed at 73 percent.

“Does running a mile-and-a-half in 15 minutes and 44 seconds, is that job related and consistent with business practices? … There have been lawsuits and research that say no,” Arneson said.

Sprinting is really the norm in the department, she said.

“I’m not advocating for lowering standards for police,” she said. “I want the standards reasonable for what the job requires for both men and women.”

The training program allows at least 16 weeks to get people in shape to meet physical fitness demands, she said.

Aside from fitness tests, screening should show that applicants can communicate well and talk to people who don’t look like them, Arneson said.

Another factor hurting recruitment is negative media attention on police shootings and protests, she said, which can discourage women from applying to become officers. Another factor is high rates of sexual harassment and the perception of sexual harassment happening on the job.

Much of the current recruiting is done at law enforcement schools, she said, with many applicants formerly in the military. Arneson suggested more recruitment at sporting events and women’s colleges.

Charlie Adams is commander of the MPD’s newly formed Community and Collaborative Advancement Division. He echoed Arneson’s comments about physical tests being problematic. If someone isn’t accustomed to using a bench press bar, they won’t do well on a test, he said.

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“That’s a barrier that we haven’t changed in years, to weed out the week,” he said. “So who are they weeding out?”

Pushing for change

Adams said Chief Medaria Arradondo has launched a committee to look at recruitment issues. Arradondo told Minnesota Public Radio in August that he wants to hire and promote more women, the No. 1 demographic seeing a drop in recruitment and retention. As part of former Police Chief Janeé Harteau’s reform plans under MPD 2.0, she also worked to increase women and minority recruits.

Arneson and Laura Goodman are setting up a consulting company dedicated to recruiting women cops under the organization Education for Critical Thinking, where Arneson serves as board member and Goodman is police advisor. Goodman worked in policing roles ranging from officer to deputy chief for 35 years, and she’s worked as ombudsman for crime victims for the state of Minnesota and director of public safety at St. Catherine University.

Arneson worked as inspector of downtown’s 1st Precinct and Southwest Minneapolis’ 5th Precinct before advancing to assistant chief. She also worked as homicide investigator and deputy chief of the Investigative Division.

Arneson encouraged women to apply for policing jobs, and she urged residents to speak to elected officials about the importance of hiring women officers.

“Women police can do the job. That is no longer the issue or excuse to keep them out,” she said. “…I believe the future of policing is to hire more women.”