A police force that's 50 percent female might be a far-fetched notion, but that's the goal for the Colorado Springs Police Department.
On Tuesday, the department began accepting applications for its January 2015 police academy, and leaders are pushing for a larger percentage of women and minority applicants.
Colorado Springs police recruiter Robert Wilson said the goal is for the Police Department to be representative of the community, which is half female.
"We hire from the neck up," he said, because being a police officer is not just about muscle, it's also about critical-thinking skills and conflict resolution.
"We want people who can think through issues," he said.
After years of being understaffed, the department is increasing its officer numbers, and a bigger pool of applicants means more female candidates, said department spokeswoman Lt. Catherine Buckley.
Of the department's 641 sworn officers, 12.5 percent, or 80 officers, are female, she said.
That number is slightly higher than the national average of 11.9 percent, the most recent figure reported by the Bureau of Justice Statistics. It's about 2.5 percent below the average for police departments serving populations between 250,000 and 499,000.
It's a percentage that has been consistent since the early 1990s, when the department saw a surge in female officers, Buckley said.
The surge coincided with the appointment of a new police chief in 1991. Lorne Kramer, a 28-year veteran of the Los Angeles Police Department, served as the Colorado Springs police chief for more than a decade and later became city manager of Colorado Springs.
Kramer retired from the city in 2007 and now runs his Springs-based consulting and executive search firm, KRW Associates.
When Colorado Springs hired its first uniformed female police officer in 1974, Kramer was overseeing a field training program for female officers for the LAPD academy, a program created in the aftermath of Title VII Equal Employment Opportunity Act of 1972.
Change in culture, gear
Before then, female officers had few opportunities for promotion and were limited to roles in administrative, juvenile and jail work. They didn't go through field training.
"I think I was like a lot of people in law enforcement at the time. I was very skeptical," Kramer said.
"But when I went to the academy and saw how the women performed and how they trained, I became a convert," he said.
He eventually married one of those female officers, a detective who oversaw internal female-discrimination issues. Kena Kramer served for more than two decades before retiring, and she inspired the lead character in the 1990s TV show "Under Suspicion."
When Kramer came to Colorado Springs and stepped into the role of police chief, there were only a handful of women on the force.
"I started asking questions about why the department had so few women," he said. "Frankly, there were not really many good answers. There was not a conscious outreach to recruit women," he said.
So he led the department in an aggressive campaign to hire women, visiting college campuses and implementing policies that would make the job not only more appealing but more attainable.
That meant changing the physical tests and removing what he called "built-in disqualifiers" related to upper body strength, in addition to providing strength-training opportunities for potential candidates, he said.
There were equipment changes, too: Gun grips were altered to suit smaller hands, women were issued Sally Browne duty belts that curved to accommodate their hips, and bullet-proof vests were created for the female physique.
The shock plate on the old vests used to go up to women's chins, and the duty belts dug into their hips, said Lt. Maggie Santos, who joined the Springs Police Department in 1992 and now oversees its internal affairs department.
City altered its work policies
City employment policies also were changed.
In particular, Kramer said he targeted a policy mandating that city workers who were away from their job for more than 90 days would be forced to relinquish their position.
"We tried to eliminate some of the stigma in the department," Kramer said.
Changing the policies allowed women to spend time with their children without worrying about losing their jobs or chances for advancement, he said.
New breast-feeding policies were introduced, and breast milk began to appear in breakroom freezers.
Santos recalled the days right after the policies changed.
"In the early '90s, nine of us got pregnant at the same. They had to figure something out," said Santos, who has two children. "I think probably half of us have kids."
Kramer created a women's coordinator position, and that person routinely met with women to get feedback about the challenges they encountered, which included not getting backup when they called for it.
The work paid off, but getting there wasn't easy.
"Twenty-five years ago, we didn't have any female lieutenants. Now we have six." Santos said.
The department currently has one female commander and will have seven female lieutenants in June.
"It took a lot of work. It took a lot of perseverance. I give the women who went through that an awful lot of credit," Kramer said.