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U.S. Department of Justice
Office of Community Oriented Policing Services

145 N Street, N.E.
Washington, DC 20530

March 2021 | Volume 14 | Issue 3

Policing is facing crises in hiring, retention, and recruitment; high profile use of force incidents; and damaging, expensive payouts following such incidents. Many people have suggested solutions for each of these crises individually, but a new initiative out of New York University (NYU) suggests one in particular: Hire more women.

The 30x30 Initiative is housed at NYU’s Policing Project, and its objective is simple: By 2030, 30 percent of sworn law enforcement will be female (currently it is 12 percent). The research is clear and the need is urgent. According to the 30x30 Initiative, some research suggests that female officers are

  • less likely to use force/excessive force;
  • less likely to fire duty weapons;
  • better able to engage with diverse cultural groups;
  • less likely to have citizen complaints filed against them.

The 30x30 Initiative is focused on collecting, processing, and redistributing accurate data on hiring and retention; providing evidence-based assistance to departments interested in hiring more female law enforcement professionals; identifying and removing barriers to entry for female candidates; and forwarding the academic study of women in law enforcement. Though the project is data-heavy, the pledge that participants sign (which contains tasks listed as “essential,” “strongly recommended,” and “recommended”) and the tasks named in it are being adapted so that agencies with all levels of data fluency can participate and benefit from the effort.

Maureen McGough, the chief of staff at the Policing Project, not only shared the guiding documents of the initiative but also graciously answered follow-up questions. The responses have been edited for length and/or clarity.

Your research demonstrates a clear case for recruiting, retaining, and promoting women in policing. In our own work at the COPS Office, we have heard that recruiting not only female but also millennial and Gen-Z candidates might require a fundamental redesign of law enforcement as a career. Do you think that the goals of your initiative can be achieved within the existing framework of policing, or does the field need to evolve to meet the needs of a more female or family-friendly workforce?

Simply put: You can't be what you can't see. We are encouraging agencies to ensure their recruitment materials reflect their commitment to demographic diversity. At the same time, agencies must be transparent about their current demographics so diverse applicants can make an informed decision about applying. We're also encouraging agencies to think creatively about where and how to stage their recruiting events and establish community partnerships to better understand how to reach individuals they're looking to hire. This is applicable to all demographic diversity, not just gender.

Research shows that if an individual is in an underrepresented group, small barriers to applying are enough to deter them from the process altogether. We're therefore encouraging agencies to review their application process for microbarriers that may be contributing to lack of diversity. The reality is that many of the assessments used in agencies have been around for decades, haven't been validated, and were created by White men at a time where White men were the default. It's not about lowering the standards; it's about changing the standards to better match the actual requirements of the job. In doing so, I suspect you'll see higher pass rates for diverse demographic groups.

I also suspect our focus on improving parental leave policies will help attract young millennial and Gen-Z candidates. Research shows Gen-Z places a premium on work-life balance and personal well-being. If agencies are able to improve their support—not just for mothers but for all parents returning to the workforce—that could be impactful. Not to mention that in many ways, policing is a comparatively stable career, and many jurisdictions offer pensions and full retirement after 20 years of service.

Are there plans to include sheriffs’ offices, correctional facilities, or other types of law enforcement in the research and recommendations of the 30x30 Initiative?

Our current focus is on improving the representation of sworn police officers, given the significant underrepresentation and the strength of the research that demonstrates the importance of improving representation. We hope to expand to civilians in agencies, though we anticipate many of the approaches to improving experiences for women officers will benefit civilians as well. We know these issues are not unique to policing, and we hope that the work of 30x30 provides a framework for supporting improvements for other public safety agencies.

If you are interested in learning more or in participating in the 30x30 Initiative, please contact

Sarah K. Estill
Social Science Analyst
COPS Office

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