Brigit Clary’s promotion to interim chief of police in Richland presents a unique opportunity. If Clary can attract more women to Tri-Cities’ police departments, it could change the look of the three that average about 5 percent female officers.
An article in Police Chief Magazine recently cited research on the benefits that more female police officers can provide to the community. Female police officers are perceived as being more trustworthy and fairer, and female officers are more successful in defusing violent or aggressive behavior.
Female officers also are less likely than male officers to use excessive force or be sued.
Clary, who joined the Richland Police Department in 2017, took the top police job when her predecessor, John Bruce, abruptly and unexpectedly resigned with three days’ notice on January 28. Richland city councilmembers and staff have been mum about the reasons for Bruce’s departure.
Tri-Cities departments lag behind state, nation in number of female police officers
Together Kennewick, Pasco, and Richland have 244 commissioned police officers. Of those, 13 are women, or about five percent. That’s compared with the 10 percent average statewide, based on records from Washington’s Criminal Justice Training Center (CJTC) for the last 10 year.
The national average is 12 percent, according to information from the 30 by 30 Initiative, an association of police departments and professional organizations dedicated to increasing the number of women in police recruit classes to 30 percent by 2030.
Individual police departments are responsible for recruiting new officers. The departments send new recruits to the CJTC in Burien or to a second training center in Spokane for 720 hours of training. The recruits must be sent by a police department; there are no self-sponsorships.
One of only 3 female police officers in the 61-member Richland department, Clary’s appointment puts a spotlight on a problem in the Tri-Cities recruiting women. The Observer reached out to the three departments to see what efforts they were making to hire female police officers.
Clary indicated that she is trying to bring more diversity to the department that currently has nine openings. The three women officers make up less than five percent of the current number.
“We do have a recruiting team and are being creative in attending career fair events, proactively reaching out to applicants, and advertising,” Clary wrote to the Observer in an email. “Our focus is to recruit highly qualified applicants from a variety of backgrounds.”
Clary told the Richland City Council at their Mar. 1 meeting, “We’re definitely lower for female officers and it does present a challenge.”
Pasco City Manager Dave Zabell said in an email to the Observer that it helps police recruitment for people to see others like themselves in the position.
“Selection is limited by State and local Civil Rules and Regulations, which do not allow for preference except by special skills; e.g. language,” Zabell wrote “Pasco is one of a few agencies which runs a separate bilingual list.”
Pasco has increased to four female officers during the past few years, Zabell wrote. “And the female officers we have in the police department are excelling in specialty and leadership roles…These successes fit well when we recruit and convince females that Pasco is a great place to have a career.”
Pasco’s department has 86 police officers so the four women represent less than five percent of the officers.
Zabell wrote that the department’s culture also emphasizes diversity and appreciation of officers who want to serve in Pasco, which has a majority Latino population.
“We depend on word of mouth, and we tell our officers, ‘You are our best recruiters,’” Kennewick Police Sgt. Chris Littrell told the Observer in a phone interview. He said he was one of two in the department with a budget of zero working to fill 10 vacancies.
He noted that Kennewick’s cadet program has worked well as an introduction for young people to a career in policing.
“Folks need to see themselves in the uniform,” he said.
Kennewick’s six female officers account for about six percent of the department’s 97 officers.
The Washington State Patrol and the 30 by 30 Initiative
The state patrol joined the 30 by 30 Initiative in 2021. WSP spokesman Chris Loftis told the Observer in a phone interview that 10 percent, 92 of the 912 state troopers, are women.
“Policing has been an industry dominated by white males,” Loftis told the Observer. “We have a lot of work to do by 2030,” Loftis said.
Loftis also spoke about how important it is for people to see police officers who look like them, and come from the community.
“We want young women to know that we need you and welcome you and we have a host of opportunities for a career in policing.”
Loftis said the state patrol is trying to eliminate barriers to recruiting new troopers. For instance, Loftis pointed out that attending the WSP 26-week residential training academy in Shelton, Washington, might be difficult for men and women with children who don’t live near the facility.
Since Washington is a big state with many rural areas, a recruit could be assigned a work location far from home, he also noted.
“We have a job to perform, but these are issues that we need to think about,” he said.
Smaller departments have a higher percentage of women
West Richland has two women in its 17 member police force, giving that department almost the national average of 12 percent women.
That’s not unusual in the state. Smaller departments have more women and that is true of those in the Tri-Cities area.
Franklin County Sheriff Jim Raymond has bragging rights for having the highest percentage of women in a local law enforcement agency. Six of Raymond’s 18 road deputies are women. With a 33-percent female force, Raymond exceeds the goal of the 30 by 30 Initiative.
“We are constantly encouraging women to apply,” he wrote in an email to the Observer.
Benton County Sheriff’s Department has two females out of 32 road deputies, about six percent, but there are around nine more in the training pipeline, according to Lt. Jason Erickson.
Benton County Sheriff Tom Croskey noted to the Observer that Detective Alison Moore recently retired after 24 years with the Benton County Sheriff’s Office. He said that he thought it was admirable that she had stayed with the same agency for her entire career.
Clary’s husband, John Clary, police chief of Toppenish commands a small department of nine officers. Two of them are women, about 22 percent.
When a woman leads a force, she tends to have more women in the ranks
Steve Strachan, executive director of the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs, told the Observer that the organization doesn’t track its membership of 220 chiefs and 39 sheriffs by gender.
He did offer some names of female police chiefs in the state.
Kirkland Police Chief Cherie Harris was promoted to chief from the ranks of the department after a nationwide search for applicants. She took over in April 2016.
“There’s a lot of opportunities for women in law enforcement,” Harris told the Kirkland Reporter when she was chosen in 2016.
A spokesman for the Kirkland police, Lt. Lisa Broueblette, told the Observer in a phone interview that the department had 105 officers and 14 were women, or about 13 percent.
Michelle Bennett was hired by the city of Edmonds, Washington, as acting chief last year when the previous chief, who served for about a week, left after allegations of domestic violence and harassment. Bennett came from the King County Sheriff’s Office.
“Michelle Bennett will bring stability to the city of Edmonds during this transition period,” Edmond Mayor Mike Nelson told the Edmond Beacon.
After a search for candidates, Bennett was selected to be the permanent chief.
“The Edmonds department is one of the most diverse in the state,” according to spokesman Sgt. Damian Smith in a phone interview with the Observer. He said 12 of 47 officers in the Edmonds department are women, about 25 percent.
Bellingham Interim Police Chief Flo Simon was appointed in January 2021 to replace retiring Chief David Doll who had been with the Bellingham police for 40 years. Simon joined that department as a commissioned police officer in 1989. She is the first woman to lead the department.
Public Information Officer Claudia Murphy told the Observer that Bellingham has often led the state in the percentage of women police officers. Currently, she said, 19 of their 122 officers are female, over 15 percent.