NYU Law Policing Project wants to curb police brutality by hiring more women

Scholars and students, however, argue that hiring more women will not address broader structural issues in policing.

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Shaina Ahmed

Police departments across the United States have joined the 30×30 Initiative, a research coalition affiliated with the Policing Project at the NYU School of Law, that aims to address women’s inadequate representation in police forces in an effort to curb police brutality. However, with cases like the killing of Daunte Wright by former female police officer Kimberly Potter some scholars and students argue that hiring more women will not address the structural flaws in policing. (Photo by Shaina Ahmed)

By Ruqaiyah Zarook, Staff Writer

Former Brooklyn Center, Minnesota police officer Kimberly Potter shot and killed Duante Wright on April 11 after allegedly mistaking her gun for her taser. Former Dallas police officer Amber Guyger murdered Botham Jean on Sept. 6, 2018, after accidentally entering his apartment rather than her own. Former Tulsa, Oklahoma police officer Betty Shelby shot and killed Terence Crutcher on Sept. 16, 2016. The three killers are white female police officers. The three victims were Black men. 

Police departments across the United States, including the New York City Police Department, have been joining the 30×30 Initiative, a research coalition affiliated with the Policing Project at the NYU School of Law. Officially launched March 25 to honor Women’s History Month, the initiative proposes that public safety is threatened when women are underrepresented in law enforcement agencies and aims to redress their underrepresentation. But scholars and students question the initiative’s underlying rationale, arguing that hiring more female police officers does nothing to address the deeper, structural flaws of policing. 

According to the NYU Policing Project, around 12% of sworn police officers and less than 3% of police leadership in the United States are women — statistics which have been stagnant for years. The initiative’s eventual goal is to increase the number of women in police department recruit classes by 30% by 2030 and to “ensure police policies and culture intentionally support the success of qualified women officers throughout their careers.” 

More than 20 law enforcement agencies — ranging from large and mid-sized city police departments to state and university agencies — have signed the 30×30 Pledge, according to the Policing Project’s website. The pledge is divided into different phases of immediate-action items and long-term goals regarding recruitment, hiring and promotion practices, as well as department culture and retention.

The Policing Project did not directly address WSN’s request for comment on the 30×30 Initiative’s mission in light of Potter’s shooting of Wright. Christina Socci, the Policing Project’s program manager, provided links to several research articles as evidence to support the idea that hiring more female police officers can curb excessive use of force.

“This is the newest study to date, and one of the first to be able to analyze fine-grained data on officer deployment and other characteristics,” Socci said regarding an article published in the journal Science earlier this year. For use of force, women officers were also found to use force less often than white men officers—about 28% less often.”

Some scholars, such as Alex Vitale, the author of “The End of Policing” and a professor at Brooklyn College, have been deeply critical of policing in the United States and various efforts to reform law enforcement agencies in major cities. 

Vitale, whose research focuses on policing and public safety, said these so-called police reforms are entrenched in the concept of procedural justice, which proposes that policing can be fixed by using more oversight, diversity and training to make law enforcement agencies less violent and biased. 

“Hiring more female officers, unlike most of these interventions, at least has some research to support it,” Vitale wrote to WSN in an email. “Small increases in female officers have shown small but measurable improvements in policing outcomes. We should not, however, assume that this means that large increases will automatically result in large improvements.” 

“The harms of policing are both built into the decision to use violence workers (police) to address social problems and assume that the harms of policing are limited to fairly rare police killings and excessive use of force,” he continued.

Chloe Truong-Jones, a third-year American Studies Ph.D. student at NYU, said more women in policing would “absolutely” not change what some activists have called the violence inherent to the practice of policing.

“The problem with many of these studies is that they focus on police ‘behavior’ rather than the basic mission or imperatives of policing, which is premised on racialized social control in the defense of capital,” Truong-Jones wrote in an email to WSN. “These sorts of diversity efforts, historically, have been used to further empower the police by enhancing their legitimacy in the eyes of the public rather than challenging the basic function of the police.”

“Gender diversity in police forces couldn’t possibly challenge the role police play in reproducing and enforcing race and class inequalities,” she added.

According to Vitale, the harms of policing also include “procedurally proper enforcement actions,” such as the war on drugs, the policing of schools, and using police to manage homelessness and mental health problems.

NYU used to mention its “strong relationship” with the NYPD on its website, but deleted the webpage, as WSN previously reported. In May of last year, the Graduate Student Organizing Committee and the Incarceration to Education Coalition copublished a statement demanding that NYU cut ties with the NYPD. Among the terms in the proposed contract at the center of GSOC’s current strike is the termination of ties between the university and the police department.

The Cops Off Campus Coalition, which consists of educators, students and activists combatting the use of policing by school administrations nationwide, amplifies the work done locally by NONYU, a coalition of groups and students at NYU working to end all forms of policing on campus.

“We know from many cases like veteran officer and field trainer Kim Potter killing Daunte Wright and off-duty Dallas PD officer Amber Guyger who murdered Botham Jean that representation will not lead to the decrease in police killings of unarmed Black people,” COCC wrote to WSN in email. “Only the abolition of police, not its diversification, is guaranteed to end police violence.”

Truong-Jones agreed, saying the Policing Project at NYU Law is just one example of NYU’s involvement in the prison-industrial complex. 

“[T]he NYU Policing Project’s complicity in expanding police capacity in New York and elsewhere is extremely problematic, especially given NYU’s investments into the prison-industrial-complex, with figures like Larry Fink on the Board of Trustees,” Truong-Jones said, referring to the CEO of BlackRock, an investment management firm that is a major shareholder in multiple private prison operators such as CoreCivic and the GEO Group.

Vitale suggested alternatives to policing toward which governments could reallocate funds from police departments. 

“The 30×30 initiative fails to address these substantive questions and the NYU Policing Project has consistently opposed the large scale transfer of responsibilities and budgets away from police and towards community-based public safety initiatives as called for by the Movement for Black Lives,” Vitale wrote. “Instead of focusing on hiring more female police officers, we should hire more female rape crisis center workers, social workers, school counselors, drug treatment specialists and housing providers.”

Email Ruqaiyah Zarook at [email protected]