ORLANDO, Fla. (WOFL FOX 35) - Headlines about conflict between cops and communitiess — and efforts to build relationships between officers and citizens — were in the back of Leslie Wolcott’s mind when an early morning trip to the gym took an unfortunate turn.
"I noticed a car behind me, and after I crossed a main road I saw sirens and it was a police car," she said. The early hour added to that sinking feeling of being pulled over. "Just like a general fear of having an encounter with a person at a dark time, when there's no one else around,” Wolcott recalled. The officer told Wolcott her tag light was out and sent her on her way. “I thought she was very nice as anxious as I was,” she said.
Wolcott was impressed, so she sent a tweet noting that the Orlando Police Department officer was “professional and kind.” She used the hashtag “more lady cops please.” “I wanted to be careful to acknowledge the good things that are happening with the police in the community because I know there are both challenges and good things happening and we probably should talk about both,” Wolcott said.
There is a school of thought that suggests having more female police officers could help with challenges between cops and the community. The National Center for Women and Policing cites 20 years of research that shows women police differently than men. The studies suggest women rely less on physical force, and tend to use communication skills to defuse potentially violent situations. The suggestions: women are less likely to be involved in police brutality.
University of Central Florida researcher Gene Paolini has been studying police culture for years. He’s found women are better at using words to calm a situation. But when it comes to whether or not more female officers would cut down on the excessive force cases that grab headlines he said: "Having your department represent your community from both gender and race is a touchstone idea. But taking it to that next level, I don't know that the science suggests that just yet."
According to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement only 22 percent of sworn officers are women.
When FOX 35 spoke to Sheriff Sadie Darnell of Alachua County in October, she was one of just two female officers in the state. “[I] had a little girl this week... she said she only thought men could be police officers," Darnell said.
Between 10 and 12 percent of her force is female. She said lifestyle and current events turn women off to policing. "Some of the recruitment is challenging though because especially now when there's so much negativity and actually hatred towards law enforcement it's hard to be an attractive profession to get into," Darnell said.
She doesn’t think hiring more women will solve the world’s problems, but she does think hiring deputies with the qualities that women tend to bring to the table is helpful. "The trait of being more patient, listening, interacting, as opposed to initially acting," she said.
The female cop that Leslie Wolcott met got her thinking, but she noted: "My position isn't the same as someone else. I don' t have the same history as someone else."
While there’s no simple solution for stopping conflicts that grab headlines, who’s on patrol could begin to make a difference.