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Q&A with Law Enforcement Legal Advisor, Karen Kruger

CriminalJusticePrograms.com spoke with law enforcement legal advisor, Karen Kruger of Funk & Bolton. Kruger has worked as a prosecutor in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and Fresno, California. In Maryland, she joined the Attorney General's office and was later appointed as the legal advisor for the transportation authority police. Kruger is now a board member on the legal officers' section of the International Association of Police Chiefs and the author of the article, "Pregnancy and Policing: Are they Compatible?"

Below she talks about issues women in law enforcement may face, and what can be done to attract more women to the police force.

Q: How did you get started in law enforcement advising?

I had thought I would be a career prosecutor, but because of budget readjustments in the attorney general's office, they had too many prosecutors. [They asked me], "Well, how about trying this: Police Legal Adviser?"

It sort of happened by accident, but it has turned out to be a very interesting field. I enjoy the work a lot. It's varied. Certainly, my criminal prosecution background has been helpful.

Q: As a police legal advisor, what are some of the law enforcement issues that you typically encounter?

I do a lot of work in the area of police officer misconduct. Sometimes that means advising police chiefs on how to discipline officers, and sometimes that means defending officers in litigation when they've been sued.

I also do a lot of training with the Maryland Police Training Commission on a variety of law-related subjects. I'm the general counsel to the Maryland Chiefs of Police Association, so I deal with many law enforcement agencies across the state.

Q: Based on your experience, what is the current state of women in law enforcement?

In doing my work with the IACP, I have also been working with the National Center for Women and Policing, and I've gotten very interested in its work. [The center] shows that about 14 percent of law enforcement officers are women now. That number, apparently, has been holding pretty steady for quite some time. I'd like to be a part of seeing that number increase.

Q: How do you think law enforcement agencies can attract more women?

My thinking is based both on some anecdotal evidence and some of the information that the National Center for Women and Policing uncovered in its 2001 survey. What was referred to as "family friendly policies" seemed to be lacking in law enforcement. That is a deterrent for women. Because law enforcement remains a male-dominated profession, it's as if the male norms are the norms, and we haven't moved from that. Even if the job and some of the assignments have changed over time due to an emphasis on community policing, or due to changes in the demographic of a community, the old male norms still apply. Everything from how we design uniforms to how we choose people for assignments should probably be revisited.

Q: What should women seeking to enter law enforcement know about the career path?

When I was working on my article, "Pregnancy and Policing: Are They Compatible," and after it was published, I got a lot of calls from women in the field who had horror stories about how their employment had been adversely affected when they became pregnant. I've learned that there are a vast number of police agencies in the country that have no particular plan or policy for an officer when she becomes pregnant. By default, then, officers [who become pregnant] are just sent home even though they are fully capable of working.

I saw a real need to provide some guidance, mostly to police chiefs and sheriffs, and to say, "Hey, this is a real issue. You need to deal with it, and if you want to attract women and retain women as employees in your agency, you've got to tackle this issue."

If I were looking for a career in law enforcement, one of the things I would look for is whether the agency has a policy specifically designated to deal with pregnancy. Even if I were a woman not intending to become pregnant or a woman beyond my childbearing years, I would still look for that because I think it provides information about whether the culture of the agency is really welcoming to women.

Q: Though the profession is still male-dominated, can you explain how women influence or have influenced law enforcement?

I just learned last week when I was at the IACP conference that there are 232 women police chiefs in the country, which not all that long ago would have been unheard of. There are thousands of police chiefs, and only 232 are women, but still it's rather encouraging to see some extremely talented, competent women rise to leadership roles. That has only been possible because of the women who have stuck it out and dealt with the male norms and the sometimes inherent, even if unintended, discrimination in the workplace. I think those women are really inspiring.

Certainly, a woman's perspective in a police agency makes a great contribution. Women think differently than men, and police agencies have to wrestle with a whole range of social problems, not just violent crimes. Studies have shown that women have certain skills in terms of dealing with people and community situations. Women's presence helps to dispel the perception of discrimination within a law enforcement agency. Women are more adept at using verbal persuasion and are accused of using excessive force much less frequently. Those are all moderating influences, which I think benefit the law enforcement profession overall.

Q: What qualities are important for a woman to have for this role?

I certainly think it takes a level of personal fortitude. A woman going into the profession should be aware that it's likely she will be the only woman in a particular academy class. Sometimes it's difficult emotionally just to have that feeling of being different, even though others might expect you to be the same.

Q: Do you think that women who go into the profession have a good idea of what it will be like?

I'm not sure that a lack of awareness about the actual job is limited to women. I've seen enough academy classes and seen enough people drop out of academy classes to start to think that there are a number of people who don't fully appreciate the level of commitment and hard work that becoming a police officer involves.

I would encourage anybody looking at a police career to try and learn more ahead of time - not only from your typical resources, like newspapers and websites.

Ask to do a ride along with your local police department. Maybe go to the town next door and do a ride along over there to see what's different. Go to community meetings where police officers are speaking or offering information. Ask to talk with experienced police officers, and see if there are any women in the department who will talk to you. I would bet that they would be more than happy to talk about their experiences.

Q: What kinds of support/resources are available for women in the field?

Unfortunately, I would say that there are not as many as there should be. There are a number of professional associations of women in law enforcement. Sadly, though, that kind of resource isn't easily available to the less-experienced patrol officer. On the National Center for Women and Policing website there are some resources. Within the IACP, there are some resources available.

I'm quite sure that all the experienced women in law enforcement who I know would be more than happy to speak with anybody who called them up asking for five to 10 minutes of their time. It takes guts to do something like that, but I think it's worth it, and I think any other woman would get a fairly good reception from an experienced [female] officer.

Q: What are some of the changes in law enforcement in general over the past few years, and how are they affecting positions for women?

Specifically with the issue of pregnancy, which I've been working on developing policies for, the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission has become much more assertive in investigating and addressing claims of pregnancy discrimination. There have recently been a number of lawsuits specific to law enforcement officers' pregnancy issues, and that is clearly forcing a change and requiring agencies to look at the issue. In addition, the model policy that the IACP just issued is something of a wake up call to law enforcement management.

Q: Can you describe the model policy?

The model policy tries to allow women who become pregnant to work in law enforcement positions for as long as possible into their pregnancy. We're trying to get away from the stereotype of, "As soon as you become pregnant, you can't possibly do any kind of police work." The policy tries to recognize that pregnancy is a medical condition and needs to be evaluated by using objective medical criteria.

Pregnancy is an evolving medical condition, such that the medical issues that are present at the beginning of the pregnancy are quite different at the end of the pregnancy. Those changes affect the duties a law enforcement officer can handle over the course of that period of time. The policy tries to create options both for police chiefs and for officers to keep working during a pregnancy. Of course, as a pregnancy progresses, the options narrow.

Q: What do you see for the future for women in law enforcement careers?

I think it's a really good career for women, but I'm not seeing a big acceleration in the number of women applying for police careers. I'm not sure we can pinpoint why that is. My guess is that we're not going to see a significant uptake in women becoming police officers, although I wish we would, and we should given the level of unemployment in the country. Law enforcement agencies are still hiring, and there are jobs available. I hope that women go after them.

Q: What do you think makes law enforcement a good career for women?

It can be a very exciting career, an opportunity to make you feel like you're really making a social contribution. It provides physical challenges that women don't always get the opportunity to participate in - for some women that's quite appealing.

Q: Any other thoughts for aspiring female officers?

It's a good career. Women can progress rapidly through the ranks if they're committed. I know one woman who went from police academy to the rank of major in 15 years, and she has three children. It can really work if you're prepared for [the job], and if you're with an agency that supports women.