LAST year marked 100 years since the first women joined what is now Police Scotland.
Superintendent Suzie Mertes, Chair of the Scottish Women’s Development Forum for Police Scotland, talks about the achievements and challenges involved in policing Scotland’s communities through the ages.
“I can remember being asked in the job interview only 20 years ago ‘We’ve got a female police inspector, what do you think of that?’ I replied that I didn’t think it was very good, given the number of women that applied for the role!
“Nobody thinks anything of it, but back then it was cause for celebration that we even had one female police inspector.”
Superintendent Mertes has spent the last two years as the Chair of the Scottish Women’s Development Forum, focused on promoting gender equality within Police Scotland.
Her time as Chair has seen her preside over the centenary celebrations of the first women to be recruited into the police force, when Emily Miller joined City of Glasgow Police in 1915 to be followed by Jean Thompson in Dundee only a few years later.
Pressure on the police forces of Scotland mounted during the Great War, with women increasingly taken into policing roles that were once exclusively the domain of men. It was not until 14 June 1924 that female constables were granted the power of arrest, with 16 female police offers employed across Scotland by 1928.
The glacial pace of progress continued when in 1940 - some 35 years after women first broke into the force - Miss Jean Malloy was promoted to Detective Sergeant and became the first woman in Scotland to gain rank.
Superintendent Mertes said: “We’re approaching a tipping point in terms of recruitment - we’re at 29.6 per cent of female police recruits as of October 2015, compared to 19 per cent in 2003.
“In addition, women made up 22 per cent of all promoted police posts in 2014; up from a mere 8 per cent in 2003.”
Things are almost becoming self-fulfilling now with female recruitment in ScotlandSuperintendent Suzie Mertes, Police Scotland
Despite the upsurge in female recruitment, gender equality throughout the police force is still a distant goal which the Scottish Women’s Development Forum is working towards.
The organisation started in 2003 as a working group focused on gender issues such as occupational segregation, where positions in certain policing roles are held by a majority of men than women, or vice versa.
Mertes talks of “inadvertent barriers” which can lead to an over-representation of one sex in a particular policing role, or a high turnover of staff due to personal circumstances.
She said: “There’s no rank or role in the police service which women cannot aspire to. Despite this, women are under-represented in road policing, for example.”
Despite inroads made in the early 20th century, it was not until 1960 that Nora Irwin and Mary Stevenson of Dunbartonshire Constabulary become the first female traffic officers in Scotland. This came only six years after uniformed female sergeants were introduced to Scottish streets.
Mertes added: “Once you’ve recruited women, you want to retain them. That means that the organisation has to consider the aspects of people’s lives which may involve young families or caring for relatives.”
The right for women to retain their policing post after marriage was only granted 48 years ago, and signalled Police Scotland’s recognition of the value of experienced officers to the force.
It was not until this century (2003) that a female police officer, Sergeant Caroline Harden of Strathclyde Police - with a Flexible Working Hours contract was promoted.
A flurry of developments were made in the 1970s, with Scotland’s first female mounted police officers, female firearms officer and dog handler all appointed. Women were no longer addressed as WPC or WSgt, demonstrating a shift in attitudes towards the value of female police work.
By the turn of the 21st century, the incremental appointments of women into new roles were bolstered by the demand for highly specialised skills within the police service.
In 2001, Sergeant Yvonne Stewart and Sergeant Fiona Ballantyne were among the first group of officers in Scotland trained in Chemical, Biological, Radiological & Nuclear incidents (CBRN).
In addition to hiring women in specialised roles, a recent SWDF-led review into maternity conditions has made Police Scotland a more “family-friendly and flexible organisation”, according to the superintendent.
“Things are almost becoming self-fulfilling now with female recruitment in Scotland - I was one of the officers that met the group of American oficers that came over from New York, Miami and Chicago last year
“The USA has approximately 11 per cent of their police forces made up of women - their diversity profile may be something they want to look at in future”, Mertes added.
Arguably the highest-profile appointment made to date came a year before Police Scotland’s official unveiling in 2013, with Rose Fitzpatrick appointed as the first female Deputy Chief Constable.
Fitzpatrick’s appointment comes only six years after Margaret Barr was appointed Director of the Scottish Police College at Tulliallan – the first woman and serving police officer to hold the title to date.