Sgt. Anthony Gibson (center left) said he couldn’t rollout the initiative without his team in the recruitment department | Photo by Ruta Smith

The Charleston Police Department (CPD) has signed on to a national initiative to increase the number of women recruits in law enforcement to 30% by 2030. The move is an effort to build a more equitable police force as departments nationwide take cautious steps on reforms, with police policies thrust into the spotlight over repeated killings of Black men and women. 

Only 12% of all law enforcement recruits across the country are women, a number that looks worse in light of a number of recent reports suggesting that women in the line of duty use less force, are named in fewer complaints and lawsuits, are perceived by communities as more honest, see better outcomes for crime victims and make fewer discretionary arrests than male officers. 

Charleston has a slight head start, with an average of 17% of its law enforcement recruits being women. But, Charleston as a community is slightly over 52% female. CPD Sgt. Anthony Gibson said that’s the root cause of some issues — the police department doesn’t reflect its community’s demographic.

The 30×30 Initiative brings together a coalition of police leaders, researchers and organizations that have joined to advance the representation of women in all ranks of policing across the United States. 

“Part of the reason we are so committed to this initiative is that there is so much social science that lends to women in policing using less force and less excessive force,” said Maureen McGough, New York University chief of staff for the Policing Project, a group focused on policing accountability.

According to a 2016 study from the University of Michigan, men tend to be more aggressive in the field, potentially  leading to more uses of force.

McGough launched the national initiative March 26, and CPD was among the first to sign up, since the coalition’s objectives matched suggestions received during the department’s 2019 racial bias audit. “It’s tied to the racial bias audit in the commitment to equity through evidence-based policing,” said Wendy Stiver, the department’s director of research and procedural justice, in an e-mail to the City Paper.

One of the suggestions stemming from the audit deals with data tracking for CPD in its recruitment division. Gibson is in charge of collecting that data and making sure information the department has is reliable and valid in real-time.

Data is still being collected, and Gibson said they are looking into grant applications that would allow Law Enforcement Advancing Data and Science academics to look over the numbers and give more specific information ahead of schedule.  

“I’m going to put my money where my mouth is,” Gibson said. “I want to be preemptive and proactive about this—I don’t want to wait until the end of this initiative.”

But the department’s priorities need more scrutiny overall, critics say.