Supporting a U.S.-based movement focused on seeing more women hired for policing jobs wasn’t a case of jumping on the bandwagon, says the man in charge of the Saanich Police Department.
Chief Const. Dean Duthie insists the department’s recent commitment to the 30×30 pledge – reaching 30 per cent female recruits by 2030 – was a way of saying out loud it continues to make equity and inclusion a priority, both in recruiting and employee retention.
“This is something that we didn’t just start thinking about in 2021 when the 30×30 initiative was first starting. This has been really built into our culture as an organization for years,” he said, pointing to that culture as a big reason the department has already reached the 30 per cent mark for females amongst its sworn officer staff of nearly 170.
The 30×30 campaign in the U.S. is driven by 2021 figures that showed women made up just 12 per cent of sworn officers and three per cent of leadership positions.
The Saanich department and others in the region are well ahead of those figures, but work continues on making policing an attractive career choice for local women.
A recruiting video entitled Women in Policing, a project spearheaded by Saanich Insp. Stephanie Edwards, tells the story in their own words of female officers working in a multitude of divisions for Saanich PD. In it, they talk about the jobs they do, their previous work experience, and the reasons they find the work fulfilling.
Edwards, who oversees the patrol division and is just the second woman to reach inspector rank with the department, said the video not only “highlights and celebrates the incredible contributions and achievements of our women police officers,” it aims to inspire other women who may be considering a career in policing.
“It is important that we understand gender differences and be strategic in our recruitment of women,” including addressing barriers to a career in policing, she told Black Press Media in an email.
While for some women those barriers are internal, such as undervaluing their skills and abilities, some may experience role conflict over being mothers and wanting careers, she said.
“These factors, combined with societal stereotypes of the physicality and assertiveness required to be a police officer, may result in women feeling that becoming a police officer is unattainable. We can help to break down some of these barriers by discussing our own experiences and showing, through initiatives such as the video, that women can absolutely do this job and can be very successful.”
Looking around Greater Victoria, Oak Bay Police, among the smallest departments in the region, generally sits at or near 50 per cent female officers, according to Chief Const. Ray Bernoties. Importantly, he said, 50 per cent of Oak Bay sergeants are female and once Sgt. Julie Chanin is installed as deputy chief, management will be at 50 per cent.
Unable to offer the shift flexibility and varied roles that larger departments like Saanich can, Central Saanich Police Service has had a tougher time recruiting women, said Chief Const. Ian Lawson, whose department sits at just over 20 per cent female officers. A former financial crime specialist with the RCMP, Lawson remembered that unit had more options available that appealed to women looking for a career in law enforcement.
“We would love to see more female representation in management,” he said, noting a key member recently left to join BC Corrections. He said the department has had good dialogue on finding ways to increase its diversity and is striving to do so. “We are really digging.”
At Sidney/North Saanich RCMP, Cpl. Andres Sanchez reports the detachment currently has nine female officers out of 32 total – about 28 per cent – but recently lost three due to transfer or promotion. West Shore RCMP currently has about 26 per cent female officers.
The Victoria Police Department, the largest policing organization in the region, has 56 female members among its total of 236, or about 24 per cent, while 11 of its 21 special constables (52 per cent) are women.
Mayor Fred Haynes, who chairs the Saanich police board, said recruiting and retaining female officers is one of the biggest challenges departments face, and requires that a number of things be put in place, not least of which is creating an environment where women feel like equals and also see a potential career path.
“We’re so pleased and proud of the work of the Saanich Police Department to achieve such a remarkable milestone years ahead of the 30×30 deadline,” he said. “It talks to the internal environment that has helped make the Saanich Police Department an employer of choice.”
We're proud to announce we've joined the @30x30Initiative by signing the #30x30Pledge! We’re committed to #advancewomeninpolicing and support the success of women officers in all ranks. To read more about the initiative, visit https://t.co/0tJH6YSztl pic.twitter.com/kqlaGmB8ZE
— Saanich Police (@SaanichPolice) May 18, 2022