RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- Lawmakers representing the Triangle in Congress were joined by local police chiefs for an event Wednesday afternoon to discuss the Supporting Women With Career Opportunities in Policing Services Act.
"The Supporting Women COPS Act will help incentivize more women to join law enforcement, help revise biased hiring practices, and establish standards for female officer retention and promotion," said Congresswoman Valerie Foushee, a Democrat who represents the state's 4th district.
Foushee, alongside District 2 Congresswoman Deborah Ross, also a Democrat, are sponsors of the legislation.
"Studies show that (female) officers create better outcomes in a variety of circumstances, from routine traffic stops to intervening in cases of sexual assault and domestic violence," said Ross.
The bill calls for the creation of a national task force on women in law enforcement, which would be responsible for a report of policy recommendations. Departments that adopt those recommendations would see a 5% bump in funding as part of the Byrne JAG Grant Program, the leading source of federal justice funding to state and local jurisdictions.
"In Raleigh, we are now paying our interns, we have a paid internship. So the 5% would go toward that effort. And what we have seen so far is we're using that internship program to be our pipeline into our police department. And of our eight interns we have now, we have three women who have applied with our agency and going to become police officers with us," said Raleigh Police Chief Estella Patterson, who told ABC11 the department has about 100 vacancies.
Just 12% of police officers across the country are female, a figure that has remained largely stagnant during the past two-plus decades.
"We want our police forces to reflect our communities," Foushee noted.
"Representation matters. And seeing someone that looks like you in positions of leadership matters," said Durham Police Chief Patrice Andrews.
Police departments in Chapel Hill, Durham, and Raleigh are amongst several agencies to sign on for the 30 by 30 initiative, which establishes a goal of increasing the percentage of women in police departments to 30% by the year 2030. Right now, RPD's force is 12% female, DPD's force is 17% female, and Chapel Hill PD's force is 13% female.
"This conversation is necessary and important for the future of a strong-based policing. When I think about women in community safety, I think about the officer who is a mother who pulls over to help a new mom to deliver her baby on the side of the road, relating to her experience in only the way a mother can. I think about a compassionate investigator who is trusted to help a woman navigate her way out of an abusive relationship. I think about an evidence technician who stops by a classroom to talk about her important work with young students, a visit that inspires women to think 'I can do that too,'" said Chapel Hill Police Chief Celisa Lehew.
Andrews said DPD has about 140 vacancies. She explained additional funding from the bill could go towards signing bonuses, as well as outreach efforts to connect with more potential candidates.
"We have begun to start programs in the pre-hire phase to help condition, especially our female officers to be ready and to be successful in the academy, whether it's in physical fitness or the actual academic portion," Andrews noted.
Other ongoing efforts to increase hiring include the Criminal Justice Fellows Program, which Attorney General Josh Stein highlighted in his remarks.
"It's all about recruiting bright, young, enthusiastic public-spirited young people into the profession. If they go to community college and do a two-year program, and then serve in North Carolina law enforcement for four years, their education is free," said Stein.
Applications for the Criminal Justice Fellows Program are open until April 30.