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HomeFeminismVirginia O’Connell Was a Pioneer in Policing

Virginia O’Connell Was a Pioneer in Policing


In regulation heels and a skirt, O’Connell helped pave the best way for the fashionable period of policing.

Portrait of Virginia O’Connell at 22, quickly after becoming a member of the Police Ladies’s Bureau. (Courtesy of Virginia O’Connell)

Virginia O’Connell’s A-line skirt fell just under her knees, her black pumps had 1.5-inch heels and inside her pocketbook was a regulation handgun. It was the autumn of 1967, and after spending a yr on the Ladies’s Police Bureau (WPB), O’Connell was wearing her new New York Metropolis Police Division (NYPD) uniform. Over the subsequent 4 years, O’Connell would curse the purse, the skirt and the heels noting that, “The uniform [was] ridiculous” and the gun within the purse “was completely ineffective.”

It wasn’t till the Nineteen Thirties that ladies with a school diploma may take the civil-service examination to grow to be a “policewoman” within the WPB; to affix the NYPD, males wanted solely a highschool diploma or prior navy service. 

O’Connell’s father, a New York Metropolis police inspector, inspired her to affix the power. Working as an emergency room nurse on the time, she took the written examination and handed, turning into one among 12 ladies in her 1966 Police Academy graduating class. 

Over the subsequent 4 years, O’Connell would curse the purse, the skirt and the heels. ‘The uniform [was] ridiculous’ and the gun within the purse ‘was completely ineffective.’

On the age of twenty-two, O’Connell was assigned to the WPB (which shuttered in 1972). Most frequently her assignments despatched her and two different feminine officers to Instances Sq. to arrest males who had been sexually abusing ladies in film homes; one of many officers would play decoy.

“The way in which you had been instructed to sign the 2 ladies behind you was to place a shawl in your head in the midst of a film,” mentioned O’Connell, incredulous.

Nonetheless, she stays wistful when recalling that “phenomenal” yr with the WPB, the place all of her bosses had been ladies and she or he earned a wage equal to the male officers on the NYPD.

“You wish to shock? [Maternity leave] was 18 months with operating pension time,” O’Connell mentioned, nonetheless amazed.

Every little thing modified a yr later when she was assigned to the NYPD, the place maternity go away dropped to a few months. With no clear plan to assimilate feminine officers, O’Connell mentioned male officers had been fired so ladies could possibly be employed.

It bred “chaos” and “loads of resentment” in opposition to the ladies, O’Connell mentioned, and whereas she “didn’t take it personally,” there was “strain to point out you can actually do that job,” together with frequent exams conjured up by male officers “hoping you’d fail, simply ready to chortle. I wasn’t going to offer them that chance.”

She credit her father for her skill to disregard the ridicule, however her huge motivator was proving to herself that she may deal with the job.

Many of the policewomen I ever labored with, they’re into de-escalating. They’re into speaking. They’re not into brute power or pulling the gun—that’s a final resort.

Virginia O’Connell

Virginia O’Connell as a part of the safety element for Bobby Kennedy’s NYC funeral procession. She could be seen within the background. (Courtesy of Virginia O’Connell)

On the time, ladies made up just one p.c of the NYPD.

Six a long time later, 19 p.c of officers on the NYPD are ladies; the nationwide common is 12 p.c, a quantity that’s remained stagnant because the Nineties, regardless of analysis that exhibits that on common, feminine officers use much less power and obtain equal if not higher outcomes.

Research additionally present ladies have higher relationships with various communities, are perceived as extra sincere and compassionate, have higher outcomes for crime victims, make fewer discretionary arrests, have fewer citizen complaints and value jurisdictions much less in civil lawsuits.

“I believe it’s 100% true,” mentioned O’Connell on recalling her days with the NYPD. “I’d see an arrestee being taken in and I assumed there was no motive to be as tough as you had been being.”

“Many of the policewomen I ever labored with, they’re into de-escalating. They’re into speaking. They’re not into brute power or pulling the gun—that’s a final resort.”

When she grew to become pregnant, O’Connell left the power and returned to nursing. She mentioned she would have stayed if childcare had been out there, inexpensive and if 18 months of maternity go away provided like WPB. At the moment, she had already begun finding out for the sergeant’s check.

Nevertheless, she stays eager for the way forward for ladies in policing and inspired extra ladies to affix.

“I believe the ladies who’ve joined are doing an exceptional job,” she mentioned. “They’re doing us all proud.”

Up subsequent:

U.S. democracy is at a harmful inflection level—from the demise of abortion rights, to an absence of pay fairness and parental go away, to skyrocketing maternal mortality, and assaults on trans well being. Left unchecked, these crises will result in wider gaps in political participation and illustration. For 50 years, Ms. has been forging feminist journalism—reporting, rebelling and truth-telling from the front-lines, championing the Equal Rights Modification, and centering the tales of these most impacted. With all that’s at stake for equality, we’re redoubling our dedication for the subsequent 50 years. In flip, we’d like your assist, Assist Ms. immediately with a donation—any quantity that’s significant to you. For as little as $5 every month, you’ll obtain the print journal together with our e-newsletters, motion alerts, and invites to Ms. Studios occasions and podcasts. We’re grateful in your loyalty and ferocity.



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