Thank you, Karhlton [Moore]. Good morning, everyone. It is truly gratifying to be here this morning, and to see so many people, both in and outside law enforcement, who care about the role of women in American policing.
I want to thank Amy [Solomon] and Karhlton for serving as our hosts, and for their commitment to expanding the presence of women in law enforcement. I also want to thank Maureen McGough and Ivonne Roman and everyone at the 30 by 30 Initiative for your leadership and for bringing awareness to an issue in need of urgent attention. I am also excited that Maureen will be returning to [Bureau of Justice Assistance] for a year to help us lift up this critical initiative and promote the importance of women in law enforcement.
We at DOJ are honored to join this coalition. Bringing the 30 by 30 initiative into BJA gives us the chance to learn even more, and then use our platform to amplify this work across the country.
My thanks, as well, to the Policing Project at New York University School of Law and the National Association of Women Law Enforcement Executives, which serve as founding partners of this remarkable initiative. And thanks to our partners at Arnold Ventures and the Crime and Justice Institute for supporting this worthy and necessary cause.
But really, thank you all as well. Your personal stories about what it has taken for you and your colleagues to participate equally in the profession you love are inspiring, but more importantly, motivating. We can do better, and we will — thanks to all of you here.
As you’ve no doubt heard, women make up just 12% of our nation’s officers, and only three percent of police executives – and those numbers have remained stagnant for decades. We are surely justified in calling this a recruitment and retention crisis.
This is an issue of equity and opportunity, there’s no question. But it’s more than that. An absence of women in law enforcement undermines the health and integrity of the profession, and it deprives us of an opportunity to build trust with the communities we all serve. And when trust and legitimacy are compromised, public safety itself is at risk.
Over the course of a career working closely with law enforcement, I have seen the enormous contributions that women have made to policing. In a field dominated by men, I have seen women bring steadiness and sound judgment to vital community safety decisions, and I have known them to carry out dangerous assignments on the front lines, in some cases making the ultimate sacrifice.
Women have stepped in and stepped up in agencies across the country. They have shown that they are more than equal to the challenges facing the law enforcement professional. And they have done it in many cases against the forces of sexism, paternalism, and marginalization.
And not only have women performed ably and bravely as front-line officers, they have risen to the top of their profession, leading departments from Baltimore County to Boulder, Colorado. They are making their presence known and felt, and policing in America is stronger for it.
But a great deal remains to be done. Recruitment of women officers remains a significant problem, and the culture of policing can be unfavorable, and sometimes even hostile to women.
And the challenges are not isolated to the thousands of state and local law enforcement agencies across the country. If we are being honest, we have some work to do here at the federal level, too.
This July marked 50 years since the first women were allowed to serve as FBI special agents, but as of 2018, women accounted for only 16% of the criminal investigators in the Justice Department’s law enforcement components, and they held few law enforcement executive leadership positions.
But we are making progress. Last week, the U.S. Marshals Service, under the leadership of Director Ron Davis, became the first federal law enforcement agency to sign the 30 by 30 pledge and formally commit to improving both the representation and experiences of women in law enforcement. They were the 200th agency to sign the pledge – a testament to the reach of this work and a powerful acknowledgement of the unique value of woman officers.
We are leaning in on our commitment. The President’s recent Executive Order on Advancing Effective, Accountable Policing lends a renewed sense of urgency to this work. It calls for federal agencies to come together to strengthen law enforcement recruitment, hiring, promotion and retention practices, with a particular eye toward creating an inclusive, diverse and expert workforce.
Specifically, the executive order calls for an interagency task force to take stock of existing policies and to pinpoint and share best practices in recruitment and hiring. This task force will engage with experts from across the country, and they will develop a core set of policies and best practices.
Their ambitions aren’t limited to federal law enforcement, either. We at the Justice Department are working on developing guidance regarding best practices for state, local, Tribal and territorial law enforcement agencies, focusing on recruiting, hiring, promoting, and retaining highly qualified, service-oriented officers.
In doing so, I hope we can leverage the wisdom and expertise that you have all built through the 30 by 30 Initiative. We will be looking to you as partners and leaders as we expand our base of promising practices and find out what works in improving inclusion and diversity. We are eager to work with and learn from you.
This goal – this collective goal of substantially widening the door for women in law enforcement – is ambitious, but it is achievable. More important, it’s necessary. We simply cannot expect law enforcement to live up to its full potential if its ranks don’t reflect the people it serves. And if we want women to join the profession and fully contribute, as they have shown they are more than capable of doing, then we need to build law enforcement departments where they can thrive.
I understand that some agencies have already reached the 30% threshold in their recruiting classes, which is an achievement worth celebrating, and more are signing onto the 30 by 30 pledge every week. This Department of Justice is committed to doing our part to build on this momentum. We understand that this is a matter of equity and opportunity, but it is also what’s best for our communities. We need women in blue if we hope to strengthen public safety and build public trust.
I am grateful to everyone here, for the example you set, for the hard work you do every day in the face of considerable obstacles, and for dedicating yourselves to a future in which policing fully embraces the contributions of women. You are the leaders we need today.
Thank you for all you do.
Vanita Gupta, associate attorney general, delivers speech at the Women in Blue: Improving Public Safety and Transforming Policing Convening.
Here is the transcript of the speech: