I'VE been involved in law enforcement, one way or another, for many years and know more than a little about the struggle of women to enter this career field.
So when I was asked to speak to the Pacific Islands Chiefs of Police Women’s Advisory Network session convened in Guam this week, it was an assignment I looked forward to.
Now many of us in this community have traveled widely throughout the region. Australia, Kiribati, the Solomons, Tuvalu ... it’s a long list. Name the country or island group and some of us have either been there, lived there, or are even from there.
But I don’t recall any session such as this one where all of these entities and many more were represented by the women who are now an essential part of their law enforcement communities.
I was ready to share lots of experience and ideas about how to deal with the law enforcement field as it once was, but as I looked out over the wide range of faces and uniforms before me, it dawned on me that there were only a handful of ‘rookies’ present. Most had anywhere from five to 30 years on the job in their respective departments and agencies. What a huge change in just a couple of decades!
As I said to them, “We’re entrenched as part of the establishment and the purpose of such gatherings as this is to figure out how to use our responsible positions to make the system work better rather than to plot how to tunnel our way into these positions.”
I described what I was trying to do as offering a pep talk, to take the gains we’ve accumulated in the law enforcement game in just a few decades and drive the ball forward.
“The pep talk I want to give you contains plenty of gray as well as the black and white in which the good guys win and we march the bad guys off to jail. There’s a lot of politics to contend with and we all know that those old stereotypes that drive resistance to women serving in traditionally male roles are still in place with many people. ... Unsurprisingly, many of them see no need to change.” Change has come, however.
I was really pleased to learn that ethical conduct is a big concern of this organization and rightfully a top item on its agenda for this Guam meeting. The importance of communication between regional police departments and agencies stressed at this conference is also welcome.
“I see both progress as well as an ongoing desire by some in the system to turn back the clock whenever possible. I would have to admit that while I am still disappointed by the limited number of women engaged in law enforcement today, I am encouraged to see that few women in that field and others are willing to quietly tolerate sexual harassment on the job or any other form of career discrimination. That’s a huge improvement!”
Regardless of temporary setbacks, I think the course has been set and the role of women in Pacific law enforcement in the years to come will only grow stronger.
In our best spirit of Guam hospitality, if you see an unfamiliar police uniform on the island in the next few days, I hope you’ll greet and congratulate our visitors on their public service at home!
Sen. Judith Paulette Guthertz, DPA, chairs the 31st Guam Legislature’s Committee on the Guam Military Buildup and Homeland Security. Send feedback to senatorjudiguthertz[at]gmail.com.