Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Women's Work

As it’s Women’s History Month I thought it would be a great time to look at one of the subject files within the ACPO collection which relates specifically to female officers. One I’ve found particularly interesting relates to training offered exclusively to women officers in the 1960s (U DPO Crowther 32/71/1). At this time women police officers made up only a tiny percentage of the police service and were not represented at all at senior level (the first women appointed to an ACPO rank position being Alison Halford who became Assistant Chief Constable of Merseyside in 1983).

Week 1 syllabus recommended for adoption by all police districts in 1963

The file reveals that a paper written by Miss K M Hill MBE, an Assistant Inspector of Constabulary was discussed at the district conferences of Chief Constables in December 1961. The paper asserted that existing basic training offered to all probationers did not prepare female recruits for the additional tasks which were often expected of them. She suggested that new policewomen were more likely to be involved in ‘serious cases of indecency, or to tackle/assist in cases involving women and children’ than male probationers. Although some District Training Centres did offer specialist guidance to women officers as part of their training, it was too short and often only available by sacrificing attendance at other classes.

The Chief Constables had mixed opinions on whether such training was necessary - No.8 district concluded that it would be ‘a waste of time and money’ as ‘so few policewomen remain in the Service long enough to benefit from it’. Nevertheless, the Training Committee agreed that such training was of benefit, and districts were invited to pilot courses with a feedback meeting scheduled for the following year.

In September 1963 a syllabus was recommended for all districts by the Training Centres’ Committee. It focussed on working with highly sensitive and often complex cases including child neglect, rape and other sexual offences, abortion, abduction and mental health cases. The following year when defending the need for this training Miss Hill insisted that policewomen ‘had to deal with serious crime at a very early stage in their service’. In response to those who had the same misgivings as No.8 district, she stressed that it was essential to make policewomen ‘efficient’, whatever the duration of their service.

Extract from the minutes of the No.6 District meeting of Chief Constables, 20th of March 1957

I found this interesting as it proves that although female officers were often perceived as somehow being lesser members of the service than their male counterparts, in actuality far greater expectations were placed on them from the very beginning of their careers. With minimal or no specialist training and very little experience female police officers had until this point been thrust into extremely sensitive situations purely because they were women. Despite this incredible pressure, female officers were not to benefit from equal pay with male officers until 1974. Looking back, I can’t help but wonder if these factors contributed to women having shorter lengths of service.

Alex Healey, ACPO Project Archivist

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