Back in the 1980s, violence against women was so awful that the São Paulo police force set up women’s police stations in areas where the abuse, assault and death were worst.
These single-gender outposts soon spread from Brazil to Argentina, Central America and Africa. They didn’t spread because they were trendy, but because they worked. Female murder rates dropped, as did violence of all kinds against women.
The idea of a women’s police force in Canadian cities sounds vaguely alien and unnecessary.
But like other Ideas From Elsewhere I’ve been advancing in these blogs, let’s hear it out and think how we can change it to suit what we do need.
Canada is no Eden when it comes to violence against women. Femicide took 150 women’s lives in Canada last year and COVID-19 has sparked a parallel pandemic of violence against women, up 20% to 30% in some regions. And let’s not forget Robyn Doolittle’s shocking series, Unfounded, for the Globe and Mail on how Canadian police dismiss 20% of sexual assault claims as baseless.
The Toronto Police Service has 4,800 officers, and 600 of them are women. Toronto Police also keep real-time data on what parts of the city have the worst domestic violence.
When we can all be out on the streets again, it would be instructive to see the effect of creating pop-up police stations with women police officers in high-risk neighbourhoods.
I’ll bet the same thing will happen here as elsewhere.
Not just because women will be more likely to talk with a female officer than a male officer about something so secret as their own abuse, but because male abusers will…well, I have no evidence for this, but I suspect these men will be less belligerent dealing with a policewoman than a policeman.
Which brings me to mental illness.
The frequency of police killing mentally ill people in Canada is shocking. It’s grown so bad that last month, Canada’s largest mental health hospital, the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto, called for police to remove themselves entirely from people having mental health emergencies. Said CAMH: “Police should not be first responders. Police are not trained in crisis care and should not be expected to lead this important work.”
Yes, there are mobile mental health teams consisting of a registered nurse and a police officer. But they only provide backup or ‘secondary response.’ Police officers alone remain the first responders, particularly for calls involving a weapon.
Critics of making mental health teams first responders note that the knife or bullet that will kill an unarmed social worker doesn’t care if it comes from someone who’s mentally ill or someone who’s not. Point taken.
But why don’t we ask police officers who have more empathy and who have guns to be the first responders?
And who are those empathetic police?
Women police officers, of course.
Countless studies point to how women are less threatening, more empathetic, and ‘cooler’ in a hot situation, better able to calm and diffuse an emotional person or crisis. In the spate of police shootings (or in the case of George Floyd, strangulations) we’ve seen in America and here in Canada, it looks to me that they all involve police men and not police women. This could be because police forces are still overwhelmingly male. But I’ll bet it’s because women don’t view a gun in their hand as an extension of their identity the way men do.
So let’s see how women-only police stations and mental health responders led by women police officers can slow the abuse and needless death of women and the mentally ill.