Since the birth of International Women’s Day in the socialist movement of the early 1900’s, the day has grown in strength and numbers to celebrate and recognize women’s advancement across developed and developing countries. From astronauts to Prime Ministers to CEO’s to law enforcement officers, women hold coveted roles that have gained notoriety and acceptance amongst society.
Today marks that day, a day to celebrate the role that women play and how far they’ve come. As a society, we’ve progressed and women across the world have experienced more rights and freedoms than ever before. There has been an attitude shift in society’s thoughts about women’s equality, and policing is no different.
This year marks the 40th year of women in policing in Saskatoon, and it has changed a great deal from 1973 when the first female officers were hired with the Saskatoon Police Service.
In honour of International Women’s Day, guest blogger Cst. Candace Mitchell, a five-year veteran with the SPS, put pen to paper, or rather, fingers to keyboard, about how things are different from then and how far women in this unique profession have come.
Picture this. You’re in downtown Saskatoon, surrounded by shops and boutiques on a warm summer afternoon. For a police woman in 1973, this would have been the perfect opportunity to purchase a new silk blouse or skirt for work; the department didn’t supply females with their uniforms.
Fast forward to 2012, and you’ll see a much different picture. The security office at Midtown Plaza is dialing Police Communications to report a young man walking through the mall with a canister of bear spray clearly sticking out of his pant pocket. If you’ve never been sprayed with bear spray, keep it that way! There’s a reason it’s classified as a weapon.
Several officers respond but one officer spots the suspect leaving the mall and crossing the street. Upon catching sight of the officer, the male takes off running, disobeying the officer’s commands. He makes it nearly a block before he sees another cop approaching from the opposite direction. And just as he pulls the bear spray from his pocket, the officer that was in hot pursuit has him handcuffed before he can even catch his breath. He didn’t even realize at the time that the officer that nabbed him was a female doing a job that she’s just as capable of doing as any man.
With an increasing number of women police officers in this city, many might question if they are as effective as their male counterparts. If history is any indication, shouldn’t a police officer be a towering, muscular, mustached epitome of masculinity? Granted, some situations do require strength and power, but what you might not know is that all officers employed in this city have to meet the same requirements. Physical fitness, self defense tactics, driving skills, academics, firearms and every other facet of training that is given at both the Saskatchewan Police College and the Saskatoon Police Service do not factor gender, age or ethnicity into the equation. The mantra is simple: you can or you can’t.
And my partner and I can. We’ve pulled countless drunk drivers out of their vehicles. We’ve apprehended a young woman who threatened a cabdriver at knifepoint taking his wallet and his cab. We’ve caught three men driving a stolen vehicle loaded with firearms. We were instrumental in catching a man who robbed a local convenience store at knifepoint four times in two months, mediated a peaceful resolution to a male suffering from mental illness who pulled a weapon on some social workers, and written hundreds of traffic tickets. We have been the calm reassuring presence at calls of unexpected deaths in Saskatoon homes, have intervened and de-escalated domestic disputes and have counseled teens to make better choices. We attend any call that a male officer would.