Part 3 - Keeping Pace with Societal Change 1975 - Now
Changes to the women in policing landscape increasingly reflected the rapidly changing expectations of society, with some of the previous barriers to a career as a police officer slowly being removed for women from the mid-1970s.
There was also growing acknowledgement that the introduction and expansion of other public welfare agencies had made some of the traditional work of the Women Police Unit redundant. This made the way for female officers to move into areas of mainstream policing which had previously been the exclusive domain of men.
In 1975 Francis Dodd became WA’s first woman officer to remain working after marrying. The marriage restriction was officially removed soon after in line with changing rules for other female government employees, such as teachers, who had previously been required to resign before taking a trip up the aisle. In 1976 the first recruit school to include women saw six women officers graduate from the WA Police Force Academy. Female officers officially went into uniform around this time – although there had previously been trials as far back as 1940 - and by 1977 the first female recruit with a child was accepted into the Academy.
The mid to late 70s was a time of many ‘firsts’ for women. In 1976 the first mounted officer was appointed (Merryn Bojcun), unpaid maternity leave (12 months) is introduced into the Police Award in 1977, the first female country traffic officer (Gillian Jones) in 1978, and the first female police officer of the year (Jenny Leete) in 1983 – which is the same year the first married female (Marie Bennetts) is inducted as a recruit.
In 1986 Val Doherty is the first female officer in Australia to attain the rank of Chief Superintendent (similar equivalent to the rank of commander in the current WA Police Force structure).
By 1988 a total of 450 females had been employed by the WA Police Force. Of these, 404 were police officers and 46 were police staff. Female police staff became a rapidly expanding part of the workforce in the ensuing years, with women consistently occupying 63% of all available positions since 2000, including many at senior levels.
Currently, the next highest representation of women in the WA Police Force is as Police Auxiliary Officers at around 42%.
Collating figures from 1917 until the beginning of 2017, the WA Police Force had employed a total of 2,361 female police officers. Like other Australian jurisdictions, the number currently serving is within a range of 20-30% of the total serving members. In WA the level of representation had increased from 8.2% in 1989 to 22.5% by 2015.
References (for all parts of Our stories):
(i) Into the Blue – A Celebration of 80 years for Women in Policing in Western Australia. The Centre for Police Research, Edith Cowan University (1998)
(ii) The Journal for Woman and Policing Issue No.35 Spring 2014 pp 14-17
(iii) WA Police Force Strategic Human Resources – various.
(iv) The WA Police Force Commemorative Book – (digital copy)
(v) Anecdotal accounts obtained during interviews with retired WA Police Force women.
Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is for general information purposes only. While every effort has been made to verify all details are historically accurate, the WA Police Force does not guarantee the accuracy or completeness of the information contained.