WOMEN ON PATROL
120th Precinct Patrol Sergeant
The fall of l973 saw the arrival of police recruits who had graduated from the Academy. The 120th Precinct was assigned a large number
of these new officers. What made this class special was the presence of quite a number of women. This was the first time that policewomen were to be assigned for patrol duty in precincts throughout the City of New
Years ago, the duties of women in policing were of a
non-enforcement nature. They were called "matrons" at one time. They were assigned as female cell attendants and performed searches of female prisoners. Searching the bodies of dead females
at crimes scenes and natural deaths were also part of their duties. The role of women in policing was neglected for many years. Eventually, they were given an increasing role in enforcement.
Their service as undercover police officers in dangerous assignments such as narcotics enforcement became legendary. Their unique value in specialized units such as sex crimes and cases
involving crimes against children has been universally recognized. When the precinct anti-crime units were instituted years ago, they would often have "decoy operations" where the men would dress
as women and pose as potential victims of street crime. It was comical to see a six foot, 200 pound cop wearing a dress and
kerchief. Yet, they made many arrests. When the women came into the precincts, their contributions as anti-crime officers were immediately recognized. Some of the women police officers gained national
fame in their role as decoys. However, the prevailing attitude in 1973 was not favorable to women performing patrol duty. They would have to prove themselves as patrol cops.
The stationhouse itself was built to house male officers only. There were neither female lavatories nor locker rooms, which could readily accommodate them. The cops didn't know how to take the new
women either. There were mixed feelings regarding assigning women to the hazardous duty of patrol. There was no history of women on patrol. It was uncharted waters for both genders.
Looking back over that period in the history of the NYPD, I am still amazed at how smoothly the transition was made by all involved. Some of the women said that they experienced resistance on the
part of the men police officers, but I only have good memories of those first women who broke the barriers of the police world. They had to have " balls of brass" to go on patrol. Many of them earned
my respect by their performance of duty.
When they reported to the 120th Precinct, the orders came down that the old designation of
"patrolman" and "policewoman" was to be changed to the generic term "police officer". However, the
women still wore the old uniform of the Policewoman's Bureau. They wore high heel shoes, stockings, culottes, and a cap that made them look like they were in the Navy. They had been issued a small five
shot revolver with a three-inch barrel. The veteran cops that were assigned with them in sector cars gaped at their legs as they slid into the front seat. The women would tug at the hems of their culottes.
Needless to say, there would have to be a uniform change, and fast. Shortly thereafter, the women were issued uniforms similar to those of the male cops. With the new uniforms, the women and men worked
with fewer distractions.
As the years went by, the novelty of having women performing patrol duty wore off. The criminals in the street began to act like equal
employment opportunity proponents. They have assaulted and injured the women cops as eagerly as they did their male partners. Many of the women officers brought honor to their gender. They did their job in
the face of hostile attitudes by some of their comrades in arms and some of their supervisors who should have known better. They brought a civility to the job that didn't exist prior to their arrival in the
stationhouses. The deportment of male cops improved visibly when women officers were assigned to patrol in the precincts. Their presence brought a touch of class to the NYPD.
©Copyright l999 Edward D. Reuss
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