Legislation will incentivize more women to join law enforcement

Today, Congresswomen Deborah Ross (NC-02) and Valerie Foushee (NC-04) introduced the Supporting Women with Career Opportunities in Policing Services (COPS) Act to incentivize more women to join law enforcement by revising biased hiring practices and establishing standards for female officer retention and promotion. The lawmakers announced the legislation today at an event with North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein and women police chiefs in North Carolina, including Durham Police Chief Patrice Andrews, Raleigh Police Chief Estella Patterson, and Chapel Hill Police Chief Celisa Lehew. Click here for a recording of the event.

About 12% of the nation’s police officers are women, a number that has not changed in more than two decades. Women are often hindered by outdated hiring processes that focus on physical strength and force. Additionally, research shows that hiring more women could have a positive effect on police performance.

“When more women serve in law enforcement, officers are more effective and can better support their communities,” said Congresswoman Deborah Ross. “North Carolina is leading the way with a high number of women police chiefs, but police departments cannot do it on their own. We must give our brave law enforcement officers the resources and support they need to do their jobs and ensure our citizens have confidence and faith in the officials sworn to protect them. That’s why I’m proud to join Congresswoman Foushee in introducing the Supporting Women COPS Act.”

“Women are underrepresented in law enforcement, and the Supporting Women COPS Act will ensure that our law enforcement agencies have officers that reflect the people and communities they serve,” said Congresswoman Valerie Foushee. “This pivotal bill will not only help advance the role of women in law enforcement, but it will also eliminate barriers they face due to biased and outdated hiring practices.  As a former administrator for the Chapel Hill Police Department, I am proud to join Congresswoman Ross in this effort that will support women in law enforcement and make a lasting systemic change.” 

“We don’t have enough law enforcement officers – and we’re nowhere close to having enough women in the profession,” said Attorney General Josh Stein. “I’m grateful to Congresswomen Ross and Foushee for addressing this need at the federal level. And I’ll continue to do everything I can here in North Carolina to strengthen law enforcement and improve public safety.”

“This legislation coupled with the 30X30 initiative are necessary steps towards increasing women in law enforcement,” said Durham Police Chief Patrice Andrews. “We are committed to recruiting more women to serve in our communities. Thank you to Congresswoman Deborah Ross, Congresswoman Valerie Foushee and Attorney General Josh Stein for pushing this forward.”

“I am really excited about this bill and look forward to witnessing more women enter and remain in a profession that protects and serves our communities,” said Raleigh Police Chief Estella Patterson.

“This conversation is necessary and important for the future of strong community-based policing,” said Chapel Hill Police Chief Celisa Lehew. “In moments like these, we see the best of our profession, a willingness to work together to improve our field and enhance the safety of our communities.”


Research indicates that hiring more female police officers could address many challenges that departments face nationwide and have a positive effect on police performance. For example, female police officers often see better outcomes for crime victims, especially in sexual assault and domestic violence cases, and can minimize negative interactions with citizens during traffic stops.

Women are often hindered by outdated hiring processes that focus on physical strength and force, as well as institutional practices that drive women out of policing. Congresswomen Ross’ and Foushee’s legislation would revise biased hiring practices and establish standards for female officer retention and promotion.

The Supporting Women COPS Act would:

  • Establish a task force on women in law enforcement, comprised of:
    • One representative from DOJ’s Civil Rights Division
    • Two mayors
    • Three female police executives–one each from municipal, state, and sheriff’s departments
    • Two rank-and-file female law enforcement officers (rank of lieutenant or lower)
    • Two representatives from community-based organizations
    • Two academics or researchers who are experts on gender diversity and policing
    • One expert in medicine or anatomy who is knowledgeable about the physical differences between male and female law enforcement officers
    • One representative from a law enforcement accreditation or standards and training organization
    • One representative from a national law enforcement organization representing women
  • Require this task force to release a report with recommendations on hiring standards for law enforcement officers that do not disadvantage applicants based on sex, for female officer retention, and for female advancement to leadership roles in law enforcement. This report will be delivered within 18 months of enactment.
  • Incentivize states to adopt these recommendations by offering them an increase in their normal Byrne JAG totals by 5% per year.
  • Authorize such sums as necessary to pay for these incentives.

Bill text is available here.