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Back to Archives | Back to April 2004 Contents 

Recruiting Women

By Robin Jones, Inspector, Ontario Provincial Police, Orillia, Ontario, Canada

By 2003 the number of people applying for a position with the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) had dropped by 75 percent in five years. During the period 1993–1997, the OPP received 20,000 applications, and 1,239 of these applicants succeeded in obtaining probationary constable positions with the OPP. In contrast, during the period from 1998 to 2002, only 5,300 applied and 1,032 were hired for constable positions. In 1997 women represented 13 percent of the sworn strength of the OPP; in 2003 they represented 17 percent. The OPP is committed to hiring qualified individuals as police officers, taking into account the diversity of the citizens of Ontario, where 51 percent are women.

To increase the number of women applying for positions with the OPP, the department established a 2003 outreach recruitment plan for women. The existing method had recruiters partnering with community colleges offering law and security programs and police foundations diplomas. Recruiters also attend other postsecondary institutions upon request. Job fairs and other display venues offer limited exposure to potential applicants, particularly women and persons from visible minority and Aboriginal communities. The same concerns existed with the other conventional methods of recruiting for the OPP, such as Web site advertisements, pamphlets, and posters. Although the recruitment staff is racially diverse and includes several women, OPP was not drawing large numbers of applicants from these groups by using traditional recruiting methods.

Finding a New Way

In late 2002 it became obvious the OPP needed to develop an outreach recruitment plan targeted at women and other diversity groups. Relying on the same recruiting strategies used for years rather than focusing on specific groups to provide a diversify pool of qualified applicants would not meet the corporate objectives. Women, Aboriginal persons, and persons of color are three such groups.

In early 2003 OPP explored new recruitment options, different vehicles to deliver information in exciting and interactive ways to qualified people. The OPP was very much aware of the work that the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) has accomplished. In 1998 IACP created an ad hoc committee on women in policing that was tasked to examine the role of women in policing, identify issues of concern, and make recommendations. This research included a survey of IACP membership about their perspectives and opinions in the following areas on women in policing:

  • Status and roles

  • Recruitment and selection

  • Supporting and mentoring

  • Training and supervision

  • Attrition

  • Sexual Harassment

  • Barriers to promotion

  • Strategic directions for women1

The survey confirmed key information regarding women police officers and was germane to OPP's critical lack of strategies for recruiting women. As stated in the IACP report, "Unfocused, random recruiting is unlikely to attract diversity. Targeted programs are more likely to do so."2 The third recommendation from the committee was as follows: "Local agencies must design and carry out effective marketing strategies that reach the intended audience of women and carry a compelling message. Many well-qualified women may not perceive law enforcement as a viable career. Only through sustained outreach can these misperceptions be dispelled."3

In 1998 Joseph Polisar, then chief of police in Albuquerque, New Mexico, said, "The APD found that actively recruiting women greatly increased the pool of female applicants and, ultimately, the number of female recruits in the academy."4 The APD participated in a national demonstration project designed to recruit and integrate women into male-dominated occupations in 1995. They created a targeted recruitment initiative by hosting women policing career fairs and obtaining media support for the career fairs. They developed flyers, posters and brochures featuring female officers; the fairs included information about the job, the academy, the application process, and a physical conditioning program designed for women. Their efforts resulted in a significant increase in the number of women applying for officer's positions with the APD.5

Research from the National Center for Women and Policing has shown that "to
successfully increase the number of women in policing, law enforcement agencies
should develop a specific plan of action that targets women in the recruiting
process and emphasizes the agency's desire to significantly increase the number
of women in its ranks.6

Action Plan: OPPBound

OPPBound is the foundation of the plan of action. It is a mini-OPP recruit camp held at the Provincial Police Academy in Orillia, Ontario. One hundred women who applied for OPPBound were selected by lottery and invited to spend the week at the academy. During that week they had the opportunity to learn about the benefits of becoming an OPP officer, the application and testing process for selection, the probationary constable training program—both at the Ontario Police College and the Provincial Police Academy. The syllabus included several mentoring sessions with key OPP women officers who shared their experiences as police officers, answered questions and built upon the excitement of the course. The women also experienced a taste of the life as an OPP recruit at the academy, which included firearms and some practical exercises and learned about the core values of the OPP. Applicants met all of the basic constable requirements, and preference was given to women who had not yet decided to make policing their career choice.

The Planning

A planning team was formed six months before OPPBound. Two key officers were the initial members, the commander of the Provincial Police Academy and the manager of uniform recruitment, as this was a joint venture between the two commands. Each of the commissioned officers assigned a member from their area to be on the planning team. In addition, five regional commanders were asked to assign a particular woman officer to the team. The planning team had handpicked these officers to ensure that the regional officers brought a variety of skills, experiences, and ranks to the planning team.

From the first planning team meeting it was apparent the group was keen, enthusiastic, and absolutely committed to the vision of OPPBound. The initial schedule of events and task assignments were developed. Other assignments at this initial stage included preparing and delivering the media launch, internal communications, the development of the course syllabus, the administration of the initiative including Web-enabling the OPPBound information and application process, and all of the clerical support necessary to support the application process. The planning team met monthly until July.

A budget and cost center for OPPBound was established. Several reports and statements were developed for OPPBound, using accepted accounting practices and subject to a financial audit during the fiscal year.

On the day of the media announcement, administrative support staff was ready and waiting, having developed spreadsheets and other tools to support phone calls and applications. The results were overwhelming; there was an average of 200 phone calls per hour for the first three days. Additionally, the Web site received more than 15,000 hits in those first three days.

After this general media announcement, several targeted sources were contacted to announce OPPBound. Some of these were the Aboriginal Friendship Centres throughout the province, the Ontario University Athletic Association (OUAA), and community colleges. Within five months, the OPP had received 2,764 applications for OPPBound and announced that no more applications could be accepted. Each applicant was sent a letter advising that her application had been received and the names of the 100 successful women would be announced on June 1, 2003. The applicants selected for OPPBound were selected by a lottery, due to the large number of applicants. It would have been impossible for recruiters to meet each applicant and determine their competitiveness as a candidate for the OPP.

The remaining applicants could not be overlooked, as many great candidates would definitely be missed. The 2,664 women who were not selected were each sent a personal letter. To provide information to these women, OPP uniform recruiters planned more than 40 recruitment information sessions during the month of June. These were strategically located throughout the province to enable the women to attend. The letter encouraged them to consider a career with the OPP and to attend one of the information sessions listed in the letter by date and location for their part of the province. The OPP uniform recruiters were identified by name and e-mail address and the women were encouraged to contact a recruiter who could assist them in learning more about the OPP as an employer.

On June 1, 2003, the successful women were notified and sent their joining instructions that included a list of essentials to bring with them and other important information such as directions to the OPP Academy and rules of OPPBound. They were advised that their uniform for the week would include dark pants and two OPPBound T-shirts and an OPPBound hat that would be issued upon arrival. Recruiters contacted the OPPBounders and had them review and sign medical fitness forms and the release-from-liability form that the Ontario Ministry of Public Safety Legal Branch had helped develop.

The Academy

When the 100 women arrived at the Provincial Police Academy their journey with the OPP began. Over the course of the next few days, they experienced both the theory and practical components of being a provincial police officer. At the opening ceremonies, the women met the recruiters, mentors, and the planning team, and the commanding officer of the OPP Academy addressed the group, explaining some of the expectations and rules. It was then time for OPPBounders to say goodbye to their families and loved ones and enjoy a barbecue with the rest of the OPP team. After dinner, they settled into the Provincial Police Academy residence and tried to get some sleep.

Each morning, the women were on the parade square at 5:50, getting warmed up for their daily physical training. A different physical training regimen was planned each day: a five-kilometer run, the confidence course, or exercises that provided the women with opportunities to challenge themselves, or in some cases, the instructors. The women were divided into three platoons for the training exercises. The following subjects were among those covered during the week:

  • History of OPP

  • Core values of OPP

  • Marching drills

  • Police equipment

  • Firearms training

  • Crime scene

  • Vehicle stops

  • Defensive tactics

Each day the women had a mentoring session. The mentors were carefully chosen for credibility, capability, courage, and charisma. They shared their experiences as police officers, answered questions, described their careers, and addressed important topics such as marriage, raising children, and working in the outlying postings.

Each evening, a difference activity occurred: movie night, beach night, sports night, and then the final banquet. For OPPBound women interested in an OPP career, the testing for selection would begin on the next morning.

The Ontario Provincial Police Promise

As an OPP employee [or] volunteer, I appreciate the vital role I play in protecting the fundamental rights of all people in Ontario. I therefore commit to always putting the interests of the public and the OPP's Vision and Mission before any personal and private interest. And I promise that I will always demonstrate pride in my profession and the OPP through personal conduct that reflects my belief in the value of Accountability; Respectful Relationships; Fairness, Courage, and Caring; Continuous Learning; [and] Diversity. I will identify candidates for recruitment to enhance the diversity of the OPP workforce reflective of the communities we serve.

OPPBound Results

Administrators expected several outcomes from OPPBound:

  • Increased number of qualified women applying to the OPP

  • Residual message to other marginalized groups and increase in the numbers of qualified persons of color and Aboriginal persons applying to the OPP

  • Increased goodwill for the OPP in general

One hundred women attended OPPBound; 78 of them are now in the system at different stages of the selection process. The first successful OPPBounder joined the OPP as a provincial police constable on January 19, 2004. There has also been a significant increase in the overall number of women applying to the OPP.

OPP Uniform Recruitment has outreach plans for other groups for which we also need to increase our pool of qualified constable candidates, such as persons of color and Aboriginal men and women. We have received several requests for recruitment information sessions in these communities and have also noted an increase in applications to the OPP.

Although goodwill is a little more difficult to measure, we did engage 2,764 women interested in a position with the OPP. The normal processing of their applications and the reaching out with recruitment information sessions held in their neighborhoods built goodwill between and among the OPP, the application pool, and our communities.

1 International Association of Chiefs of Police, "The Future of Women in Policing: Mandates for Action" (1998).
2International Association of Chiefs of Police, "The Future of Women in Policing," 7.
3International Association of Chiefs of Police, "The Future of Women in Policing," 23.
4Joseph Polisar and Donna Milgram, "Recruiting, Integrating, and Retaining Women Police Officers: Strategies That Work," The Police Chief 65 (October 1998): 42-52.
5Polisar and Milgram, "Recruiting, Integrating, and Retaining Women."
6National Center for Women & Policing, "Recruiting and Retaining Women: A Self-Assessment Guide for Law Enforcement" (2001): 46.


From The Police Chief, vol. 71, no. 4, April 2004. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.

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