Female police officers are this month celebrating 100 years of women in the service. In December 1915, Edith Smith was appointed the first woman police constable in the UK; now there are 35,738 female officers across England and Wales.
But they still only represent 28% of all police, and home secretary Theresa May has said that isn't good enough. "While we have come a long way, we must go further," she said. BuzzFeed News spoke to 11 female officers about their experiences.
1. Lorna Dennison Wilkins. Joined Sussex police in 1998.
I was a police constable in Brighton for seven years before being promoted to sergeant in 2005. Two years later I joined the Specialist Search Unit, which I was the first woman to join since it was established in 1966.
The unit performed search and recovery in hazardous areas which includes underwater search (police diving), confined-space entry and search, rope access, marine operations, disaster victim recovery, major crime search, and swift water operations.
During my time on the unit I began a research study called the "Body Recovery From Water Study", which aims to collect and share data about body recoveries in inland water for more effective searching.
Outside of work I have 12 bicycles, two kayaks, a stand-up paddleboard, and a pair of skis – which indicates what I like to do in my spare time.
2. Lara Simpson. Joined Sussex police in 2006.
I wanted a job that could challenge me, help others, and provide a better life for my son. My first five years were spent as a response officer in rural Sussex. I later became a public order officer, and worked on many demonstrations and public events in Sussex and London, including the G20 climate camp protests and student protests.
With three years' experience of public order tactics and training, I looked to progress on to the tactical firearms unit. By making improvements to my fitness levels over that period, and with the support of my family, I passed the application and selection process for the firearms training course.
Despite the intensity and demands of that eight-week course, I successfully became a firearms officer, a role I have thoroughly enjoyed for the last five years. [When I'm] working at Gatwick, many of those travelling through the airport are surprised to see armed police. Walking through the terminals with the G36 assault rifle certainly causes a mix of reactions, but thankfully I have not yet needed to use any of the weapons we are trained and issued with.
3. Steph Hoskins. Joined Essex police in 1973.
From the age of 5, when I saw mounted police officers, I knew that my heart was set on joining the police – although I have to say that the policewomen then terrified me. I was posted to Grays police station in Essex on January 1974.
I was fortunate that while women were generally not accepted as being capable to do the job of men, my shift were accepting and somewhat protective of me. When working with the lads I found myself primarily on foot patrol, save for nights when I was either crewed in a car with a male officer or sat in the back of a double-crewed male officer car.
I persisted in asking the admin chief inspector every day for an advanced driving course and ended up taking one in July 1977, coming top. My father commented that it was a man's world and I would not succeed. Returning to work, I was told there was no place for a woman driver and some colleagues refused to patrol with me. I felt I had to work twice as hard to prove myself to be an integral member of the shift and that took a few months to achieve. I recall each male officer introducing me to their partners as the "woman from work".
One of the lowest moments was the embarrassment of having my police car stolen and being assaulted and pushed out of it whilst it was moving after a routine stop check. The couple in the vehicle had been responsible for shoplifting in Chelmsford – the male was wanted on warrant for attempted murder. I received a high commendation for my actions but was given a hard talking-to for leaving the keys in the car's ignition. The keys were left in the ignition as I had modelled the first trouser suit for Essex police and pockets basically did not exist.
I qualified as a police driving instructor in 2003 and my current role is working in the drivers' standards department conducting bespoke assessments in a bid to reduce police accidents. I still partake in pursuit training.
4. Julie Wheatley. Joined Hertfordshire Constabulary 25 years ago.
I'm originally from the North East and am often likened to Vera, the DCI off the telly [in the ITV series Vera]. I'm currently divisional commander for North Hertfordshire district, which is where I live with my husband and 19-year-old daughter.
I manage some of the county's most dangerous offenders. My husband is also a chief inspector in the force and my daughter Sarah has quite significant learning disabilities – this too brings its challenges and rewards. She is honest, trusting, and profoundly funny.
I was the force strategic lead for hate crime up until recently; one of my main areas of focus was disability hate crime, for obvious reasons. I was also the chair of our women's support group, Engage, for over three years, arranging events and recognising the unique role of women within our organisation.
Hertfordshire has an excellent tradition of promoting women and it has certainly supported me in my promotion, but also supported me in terms of my posting. I am primary carer for my daughter as she has significant personal care needs. Life is busy, demanding, and I wouldn't change a thing.
I have the same enthusiasm for protecting the public of Hertfordshire that I did 25 years ago, just with bigger teams and more of an influence on how and what we do.
5. Tanya Wilkins. Joined West Yorkshire police in 2001.
I'm currently a detective sergeant within Safeguarding, dealing with offences against children and vulnerable adults. I've been a detective for over 10 years and previously worked within the investigations department at the North East Counter Terrorism Unit.
I wanted to be a police officer from the age of 12, mainly because I watched The Bill and Crimewatch. I feel that policing has changed since I joined. There are now more women in crime-based roles and more female supervisors than when I first joined.
The best part of my job is securing lengthy convictions, dealing with serious and complex crime, and increasing public satisfaction. I live in Leeds with my husband of nine years, who is also a serving police officer, and our 2-year-old daughter.
6. Sarah Jackson. Joined Greater Manchester police in 1995.
Policing has significantly changed over the years. My mother was a police officer but when she became pregnant with my brother in 1968, she had to leave. We now have excellent commitment to supporting working mothers and have maternity and flexible working hours to suit.
Even the uniforms have changed. Only 20 years ago I was issued with a set of skirts, a handbag, and a miniature truncheon – only the males got a full-sized one. Women could only wear trousers between the months of November and March, during the hours of darkness. Women in the police really do have equal opportunities now, but I know from leading the force mentoring scheme, there is still a battle in terms of improving women's confidence and the representation of women in specialist roles.
I live in Greater Manchester with my husband and two children. I am a third-generation police officer; my late grandfather was a detective inspector in Lancashire and he had two sons – my late uncle who was a superintendent in Lancashire/Greater Manchester police (GMP), and my father who reached chief superintendent in GMP. My brother is also a serving police superintendent in GMP and my husband is a detective sergeant working on the Hillsborough inquiry.
I joined GMP in March 1995. I am a career detective and gradually worked my way up the ranks working with the Intelligence Field and Reactive Crime Investigation. I am currently seconded to Manchester city council, working with the Children's Directorate. There is no better job satisfaction than helping someone and making a difference in what is usually a time of difficulty. It's hard work and long hours but I wouldn't think of doing anything else.
7. Furzana Nazir. Joined Cumbria Constabulary in 1992.
I joined Cumbria Constabulary as a special constable in 1992 and am now the detective chief inspector. I joined because I wanted to help people, to make a difference and solve crimes.
I actively encourage diverse groups and females to join the organisation. I do believe in redressing the balance of men and women in all roles – however, this must happen ethically and be based purely on merit, rather than a woman being put in a role as a token gesture.
I am the mother of two beautiful girls who both have successful careers, one of them in the outdoor pursuits industry and the other in the fashion industry. I've worked the full shift pattern while bringing them up as a single parent and I'm very proud to say they have both grown into lovely adults.
8. Trudy Runham. Joined West Midlands police in 1995.
I joined at the age of 22 and quickly learned my trade working in tough, deprived areas in uniform roles, such as on response teams and neighbourhood policing. In 2002 I successfully passed my CID interview and a year later I jumped at the opportunity to join the child protection team.
In 2005 I was delighted to pass my sergeants' exam, among the top 1% in the country. I am now in the very privileged position of being the SME (subject matter expert) for West Midlands police on forced marriage and honour-based violence. This role has given me the wonderful opportunity of helping shape the way that officers can try to prevent these marriages from occurring and how we can better respond to them.
It's estimated there are between 8,000 to 10,000 forced marriages happening per year in the UK, and with just over 300 cases of forced marriage and honour-based violence cases being reported to the West Midlands police per year, we know that we are dealing with the very tip of the iceberg.
Since I joined West Midlands police, I have certainly seen an increase in the recruitment of female officers, which is far more representative of the communities we serve. Departments such as child protection have also seen a real increase in male officers joining, where notoriously it was perceived as being a "girly" role. Now it is quite rightly recognised as a department that deals with highly complex cases such as serious woundings, sexual assaults, and, in the worst-case scenario, murder.
Officers on those teams deal with risk every single minute of the day and it is a highly pressurised department. There is also a significant increase in the number of female officers in higher ranks. Without question, the best part of this job is changing people's lives for the better.
9. Jacqueline Sharrad. Joined City of London police in 1990.
I applied to the City after my mum saw a recruitment stand at Kent County Show, where I was competing at the time on one of my mum's horses. My mum saw that the City had a mounted branch and thought it was time I had a proper job. At the time I was working in the equine industry, which she always thought was a waste of my grammar school education.
So I filled out the forms and having passed all the interviews and home visit, I started training school in 1990. I had to wait almost seven years for the mounted branch to advertise for new staff but having passed my standard equitation I have been attached to the mounted section ever since, and at 17 years in the branch I'm the longest-serving officer here.
Policing has changed a lot for female officers. When I joined, I was the only female on my group for almost two years – now the ratio is a lot higher. The biggest change for me was pension contributions, which increased so we paid the same as the men.
I love everything about my job; I get to ride every day and travel around the country working for other police areas, I get to take part in both ceremonial and public order events. The work in the city is varied – I could be on a community visit or supporting colleagues at a large public protest.
10. Claire Stockham. Joined Sussex police in 1983, now retired.
When I joined the force in February 1983, it was policy that new officers were posted to Gatwick Airport for at least two years. It was expected that during that posting everyone would have a period of time on the armed section. I spent two years carrying a firearm; I was 21 at the time and keen to do it.
Training was a week at HQ in Lewes and during that we did a mental health screening of sorts. We did not have any tougher physical testing other than the basic test for every course. When we passed we returned to Gatwick qualified to carry a Smith & Wesson .357 and a Heckler & Koch machine gun.
Once a month we would go out to a disused hospital or other such buildings to carry out practical training with various different scenarios. The uniform for women still consisted of skirts, jackets, and handbags in which we carried all our safety equipment – an eight-inch truncheon. Where else could the gun go but also in the handbag?
This was 1985 so WPCs [woman police constables] weren't allowed to wear trousers other than on nightshifts from November to January, and while the male officers put their guns in their trouser pockets we had to fight with clothing stores which eventually relented and sent us longer pocket inserts for us to sew ourselves in order that we could then put the gun in our skirt pocket. In time we progressed to having our guns in a holster on a belt.
11. Kay Lancaster. Joined Hertfordshire police in 1994.
I have been a police officer for over 20 years and an operational detective for 17. I have worked in all areas of crime investigation, including the covert and undercover arena. This has also meant long, unsociable hours and lots on call.
When I first became a detective I was the only female in the CID office – now some of those offices are 50/50. That's great progress as I definitely did make more than my fair share of tea! An ITV programme, Married to the Job, followed me when I was a detective inspector on a unit that protected the elderly from distraction burglary and fraud. The programme received very positive feedback and I received letters not only from the elderly, but also from single mums who wanted to go into policing.
I am a divorced single parent who has two beautiful boys aged 12 and 13. My brother also served in Hertfordshire police and is now recently retired, my niece is a serving PCSO, and my great grandfather was also an officer in Hertfordshire. I was also married to a firearms officer.
I always wanted to be a police officer – I came for work experience aged 16 – because I wanted to do something worthwhile, make a difference, and help people. I was and still am passionate about policing. I have never felt disadvantaged as a female; I am now a chief inspector currently within corporate services, my first strategic role. Females now have every opportunity in policing.
Emily Ashton is a senior political correspondent for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
Contact Emily Ashton at email@example.com.
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