Women police officers and the use of coercion

Eugene A. Paoline, William Terrill

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

95 Scopus citations


Despite numerous advances in the last thirty years, women police officers continue to face acceptance issues in a male-dominated occupation. Qualitative accounts of policewomen have noted that many of the integration barriers stem from traditional assumptions about police work, much of which revolves around the cultural mandate to display one's coercive authority over citizens. Female officers are often perceived as unwilling (or lacking in ability) to use coercion when encountering citizens. Unfortunately, little empirical evidence is available to support this claim, as gender studies that specifically examine the use of coercion have tended to focus on excessive force. Using data collected as part of a systematic social observation study in Indianapolis, Indiana, and St. Petersburg, Florida, this research examines both verbal and physical coercion that policewomen use in day-to-day encounters with citizens. The results of this study challenge one of the most fundamental stereotypes levied against women police officers. Contrary to traditional assumptions, female police officers (compared to their male counterparts) are not reluctant to use coercive force, and examinations of both verbal and physical force reveal few differences in not only the prevalence of each behavior, but also in the commonly associated explanatory factors. The article concludes with the implications of these findings for police research and practice.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)97-119
Number of pages23
JournalWomen and Criminal Justice
Issue number3-4
StatePublished - Apr 4 2005
Externally publishedYes


  • Coercion
  • Police
  • Use of force
  • Women police officers

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Gender Studies
  • Law


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