Less than one-fifth of police officers are female in the United States today, according to Statista. Iowa State Police Department female officers shared their experiences of being women in law enforcement.
Allison Bell, police officer III at the Iowa State Police Department (ISUPD), explained her early aspirations for becoming an officer.
“I wanted to be a police officer for so many reasons," Bell said. "I wanted to be the person that people came to when they were in need. I wanted to be the person that knew what to do when bad things were happening.”
Not only is Bell an officer, but she also has specialty positions as Homeless Outreach Liaison Officer, Sexual Assault Response Team Officer and a Police Trainer.
Being a police officer on a college campus has its ups and downs. Bell acknowledges it can be difficult at times because students don’t understand they aren’t just campus security; they are real police officers, just like any other city or state officer.
However, Bell said there are fun parts about her job as well.
“I like being an officer on a college campus because we meet so many different people," Bell said. "I come from small-town Iowa where everyone knows everyone. Here on campus, I meet someone new every day multiple times a day. We also get to work a lot of cool events like football games, basketball games, country concerts, political events and more. I almost met country singer, Dustin Lynch, at his concert two years ago. How many cops get to do that?”
There are more difficulties than stubborn college students for Bell at ISUPD. She touched on what it’s like being a female in law enforcement, a male-dominated career.
“In law enforcement, generally there are so many more males than females," Bell said. "For example, my academy class had about 40 people and six of us were female. Another class had 35 officers with only one of them being female."
ISUPD is a special department when it comes to their female-to-male staff ratio.
“Our department, however, has more female officers than I have ever seen in a department," Bell said. "We have, I believe, 13 female sworn officers out of a 38 person department. That is unbelievable. And it’s not like we are hiring female officers just because they are female. Our female officers are amazing officers.”
Bell is not the only female officer from ISUPD to recognize this. Priscilla Rebollozo, police officer I, also commented on the topic.
“I haven’t had any difficulties being female here,” Rebollozo said. "I think it’s very inclusive and it’s been a great place to work so far. Even just in our class there’s been a higher number of women that have gone to the academy and they treat us just the same as the men in the room, and I’ve really appreciated that.”
Being a female police officer runs deeper than just inside the office, though. Bell explained some experiences she’s encountered in the field.
“In my department, I personally feel like I am taken seriously," Bell said. "If I was at a different department, I don’t think I would feel as if I was taken seriously. Other departments aren’t as used to working with so many other females.
"As far as civilians see us, I think we are taken less seriously than the male officers. You will hear people on the street say as we drive by ‘Oh, it’s a girl cop!’ as if it is a surprise we are allowed to wear the uniform. You will see people sometimes listen or talk to the male officers more seriously as well or listen to them on the first command.”
However, as a Sexual Assault Response Team officer, Bell benefits from being a female officer, and said female victims are always grateful to have another woman to speak to.
“One of my biggest passions is my role as a Sexual Assault Response Team officer," Bell said. "If roles were reversed and I was the victim, I would also want to speak to a female officer over a male. Not that a male officer would do a bad job; I would just feel more comfortable speaking to a female officer. Over everything, I am so happy that I am a female officer, so that [other] females feel comfortable coming and speaking to me.”
Bell explained the backgrounds and experiences that faculty and staff bring to a police department are what benefits it most. She mentioned how additional diversity to law enforcement, specifically at ISUPD, can be an advantage.
“I would love to see individuals who do not identify as male or female become law enforcement officers,” Bell said. “Having transgender and non-binary individuals in law enforcement would be wonderful as their lived experience and wisdom would be so beneficial to the department and the community we serve. They would also be a fabulous asset to the department in terms of building relationships with the LGBTQIA community.”
Bell also noted while being a female in uniform has both ups and downs, she is more than happy to fill the positions she does and encourages other women to join law enforcement as well.
“To any females aspiring to be police officers: do not ever give up on your dream,” Bell said. “There will always be people who doubt your abilities and gawk at the fact you are a female in uniform. There is nothing more empowering than seeing more and more females becoming police officers and I would love nothing more than to have more Sisters in Blue!”