By BROOKE KANSIER
Capital News Service
LANSING — With male troopers outnumbering females 9-1, the Michigan State Police is reaching out to aspiring woman troopers to improve gender diversity numbers — both in the present and the future.
Women make up just under 10 percent of the current State Police force. This number has dropped from past diversity improvements that followed a Federal Justice Department lawsuit against the MSP in 1975, which accused the department of discriminating against females and minorities when hiring state troopers.
Col. Kriste Kibbey Etue — who became the MSP’s first female director in 2011 — said that improving this percentage is a priority.
But according to officials, this is easier said than done.
Misinformation and myths about law enforcement make it hard just getting women to apply, said Capt. Monica Yesh, the MSP’s 2nd District commander.
“Women don’t believe they can have a family and work the job,” Yesh said. “I think also that some women don’t have a desire to have to become physical if they need to … It’s a profession problem, and I don’t believe it’s just for the Michigan State Police.”
The department is working to combat its shrinking gender diversity through recruitment seminars exclusively for women interested in police work. The meetings allow aspiring officers to ask questions and learn about the career from female MSP troopers of a variety of ranks.
“They have a lot of other questions that maybe a woman would have, and they’d be less likely to raise their hand at a big recruiting event and say, ‘Hey, I’m just wondering about this,’” Etue said.
The department has held two seminars since the program began in 2014, most recently in April. While the seminars have only taken place in Macomb and Oakland Counties so far, officials expect to include locations such as Grand Rapids and Muskegon in the near future.
“I think the more seminars we have like this, the more opportunities we give women,” Yesh said. “They can come out and find out exactly what a career in law enforcement is about.”
Yesh, who was involved in both of the seminars held in her Southeast Michigan district, said each had a successful turnout. The MSP’s first seminar was held in Macomb County last year and was attended by nearly 300 women, 14 of whom are currently working toward becoming troopers, said Sgt. Michele Sosinski, who works with MSP Recruiting and Selection.
Diversity of all kinds is important in a police force in order for better community cooperation and communication, said Christina DeJong, an associate professor in Michigan State University’s School of Criminal Justice.
“The police have to work with a very diverse community,” she said, “and so most researchers believe that the more diverse the police agency is, the better they are able to work with diverse members of the community.”
DeJong said this gender gap is not unique to the MSP — or even Michigan — although smaller, local police departments tend to have higher proportions of women among their ranks. The MSP has a more militaristic style in comparison, which she said could be a factor.
Regardless, DeJong expects to see improved numbers in the future, especially with a growing number of higher-ranking female officers like Etue and Yesh, which makes these careers more welcoming to women.
“I think that encourages women to get involved, because those women in leadership positions demonstrate that it is possible, … that things have gotten better for women in policing and they are more easily able to climb the ranks and take on leadership positions,” DeJong said.
The MSP also plans to become more involved in local schools as a way to reach out to aspiring future troopers — especially young girls.
Research on this police presence in schools has had mixed findings, DeJong said, but if officers work to be friendly instead of intimidating and make an effort to get to know students, their presence can have a very positive impact.
“I think there probably are some young girls out there who think they can’t be police officers,” she said. “Seeing a female officer come into their school and talk about what they do could be a huge motivation.”
Another MSP women’s seminar will be held June 20 in Lansing. Those interested in attending can check www.mi.gov/mspjobs for more information as it is posted.
By BROOKE KANSIER