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Women in Policing

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Between 1914-1915, a national appeal for special constables was launched on the eve of the outbreak of the Great War and two women were appointed in Sandgate, ‘to keep a look out for suspicious people and lights on the beach.’

The Metropolitan Commissioner of Police agreed women could be trained and patrol in London on a purely voluntary and unofficial basis, and Margaret Damer Dawson, an anti-white slavery campaigner, and Nina Boyle, a militant suffragette journalist founded the Women’s Police Volunteers in 1914, which became the Women’s Police Service in February 1915.

The Police Act of 1916 made it possible for women to be appointed as women constables although Home Office policy was that they should not be sworn in.

Miss G King and Miss L Cambell first female officers to join Reading Borough PoliceIn 1917, Grace Costin was appointed and trained for general police duties, she has been acknowledged to be the Thames Valley area’s first woman police officer.

In 1919, the Sex Disqualification Removal Act was passed and for the first time women could become lawyers, vets and civil servants. When the first 25 police women appeared on the streets of London they were required to patrol in pairs, followed at a distance of six to ten yards by two uniformed policemen under strict orders not to let them out of their sight and to go to their aid at once if they were in trouble.

Officers modelling old style uniformsIn 1924, women were employed in the Metropolitan Police District, six County Forces and 27 City and Borough Forces the total strength being 110.

In 1929, there was still no compulsion to recruit women and many continued to believe that police work was men’s work and that women in police uniform somehow lost their femininity.

In 1932, Lilian Wyles was appointed the first woman chief inspector in the police force. She joined London’s Metropolitan Police in 1919 and the CID in 1922.

In 1939, The National Council of women complained that the Government had no plans for enrolling women as special constables. As a result the Women’s Auxiliary Police Corps was created in August 1939 for women between the ages of 18 and 55.

In 1941, Reading Borough Police attested its first female officers these were WPC Elizabeth Young and Jenny Timberlake. By 1946 women police officers were also serving in the Berkshire Constabulary and Oxford City Police.

Female Buckinghamshire Constabulary officer modelling new uniformBy March 1942, the 226 regular police women employed on the outbreak of war had risen to 2,800 regular and auxiliaries.

Between 1942 and 1945, as the country’s shortage of manpower became increasingly acute the Ministry of Labour’s controls extended to the employment of women, a substantial number of women were directed into the police, where they proved highly successful. By the end of the war the Women’s Auxiliary Police Corps had risen to 3,700, and in addition there were over 400 regular police women.

Six years after Reading Borough gained its first female officers, its Chief Constable reported of the “Women Police Department” that “although this is a comparatively new department, and in spite of the fact that in many quarters the introduction of police women was strongly opposed, experience has proved conclusively that such a department is not only desirable but that it is indispensable”.

Buckinghamshire Constabulary officers in summer uniform with Chief Constable JL CheneyIn 1967, a report by the Police Advisory Board found that police women numbers had peaked at 3108 in England and Wales but this represented a short fall of over 806 female officers.

In 1969, Sislin Fay Allen made the headlines when she became the Metropolitan Police’s first black female officer.

Up until the mid 1970s occupational segregation was perfectly legal, with female officers having a separate rank structure within their own departments. Women were often located in a physically separate part of the building, with their own offices and changing facilities, and a similarly segregated set of tasks to carry out.

Karpal Kaur SandhuOn 6 March 1971, over 4000 women took part in the first women’s liberation march in London. Karpal Kaur Sandhu, a Sikh joined the Met and was the first Asian women in the world to become a police officer. Her service was cut short in 1973 when her husband murdered her because he objected to her career.

In 1973, women police were integrated directly into the Metropolitan Police Service.

In 1975, several key pieces of legislation were passed. The Sex Discrimination Act, 29 December 1975 made it illegal to discriminate against women in education, recruitment and advertising. The Employment Protection Act introduced statutory maternity provision and made it illegal to sack a woman because she was pregnant.

In 1983, Alison Halford became the highest ranking policewoman in the country as Assistant Chief Constable on Merseyside. She set up rape crisis centres and new standards for abused women and children to be interviewed by female police officers.

In 1986, The Sex Discrimination Act (Amendment) enabled women to retire at the same age as men. It also lifted the legal restrictions which prevented women from working night shifts in factories.

1987 saw the formation of the British Association of Women Police (BAWP).

Throughout the 1990s women were recruited into Domestic Violence units, sometime called Child and Family Protection Units.

In 1995, Pauline Clare was appointed Chief Constable for Lancashire, the first women to hold this senior rank.

In 2000, 17 per cent of the total number of officers in England and Wales were women with just over 20,000 female officers in total.

In 2007, Sara Thornton was appointed as Chief Constable for Thames Valley Police.

In 2014, four out of the seven members of the Thames Valley Police Chief Constable’s Management Team were women.

Today, Thames Valley Police has 4534 police officers and of those 1460 are women. There are 1773 women police staff, 229 female PCSOs, 154 Special Constables are women and there are 239 female volunteers.