Assistant Police Chief Catherine Johnson is a police officer first, but being a woman helped on a call when she calmed an enraged 6-foot-tall man with just her words and without backup.
“I thought about how I would want someone to treat me and talk to me if I were upset,” Johnson said. “I’m a little over 5 feet tall on a good day, but I was able to talk him down out of fight mode by trying to relate to him.”
Twenty years have gone by, but Johnson still vividly remembers this de-escalation and the power of personalizing someone in crisis.
With the Austin Police Department joining the 30×30 Initiative, she hopes for more of these success stories.
APD is the latest law enforcement agency to sign the 30×30 Initiative pledge to rectify historic underrepresentation of women on the police force, following other Texas police departments in Dallas, Houston and Waco. The Austin department plans to collect data and submit reports on inclusivity over the next two years.
“Our ultimate goal is to increase the representation of women in police recruit classes to 30% by 2030, and to ensure police policies and culture intentionally support the success of qualified women officers throughout their careers,” APD said in a statement.
Women among Austin police ranks
Women make up 11% of sworn police officers in Austin — falling behind the national average of 12%, according to data obtained by the 30×30 initiative. Women hold only 3% of police leadership positions in the country.
Johnson first learned about the 30×30 Initiative six months ago when she was a commander overseeing the APD Training Academy and recruiting unit. Her idea to join the initiative quickly spread, and departmental excitement turned into a formalized pledge to advance women.
“I want to see more women putting themselves out there and being in leadership positions,” Johnson said. “Representation should mirror what our community is, and 50% of the community is women.”
The mother of two said she’s constantly trying to balance her roles as a mother, a wife, an officer and a leader, but the first step for women thinking of becoming an officer is realizing they can succeed despite self-doubt, and that if she can do it, anyone can do it.
“Women bring so much to police departments, and we need to be dragging our own chairs to the table for representation,” Johnson added.
The 30×30 pledge is the beginning of a two-year project for Austin police with two phases of data collection. In the first six months, APD will collect rank and demographic figures and distribute an anonymous survey to female officers.
The 30×30 Initiative also recommends immediate actions for police departments like Austin’s, such as formalizing gender diversity in its mission statement, affirming zero tolerance for discrimination and harassment, providing a dedicated space for nursing mothers, and guaranteeing that uniform equipment is appropriate for women.
“We’re absolutely thrilled. We’ve seen a lot of traction in the state of Texas, so it was great to see APD step up,” said Maureen McGough, co-founder of the 30×30 Initiative.
McGough was working at the Department of Justice when the mission of the 30×30 Initiative came to life at the 2018 National Institute of Justice Research Summit on Women in Policing.
She spent the next three years bringing together a coalition of police leaders, researchers and organizations to join forces in advancing the national representation of women in policing. The 30×30 Initiative launched in March 2021 and has received nearly 150 pledges in less than one year.
The initiative’s main goals are to increase female police recruits 30% by 2030, eliminate police department policies of bias and ensure that department cultures are inclusive and respectful.
A broader benefit
But McGough said that the 30×30 Initiative isn’t just about gender equality. The coalition’s research suggests that female officers uniquely contribute to improving public safety through less excessive force, more awareness of diverse communities and greater sensitivity toward victims of gender-based violence or sexual assault.
“We absolutely anticipate that agencies that implement the 30×30 pledge will see an improvement in the representation of women across all ranks and an improvement in public safety outcomes,” McGough said.
Her team chose the goal of a 30% increase of female officers after discovering that culture and policy transform once an underrepresented group reaches 30% of representation.
“We are creating a culture that is inclusive, supportive, and respectful of not just females but all of the different diverse folks we have in our department — whether it’s a racial or ethnic basis, sexual orientation, and gender,” Austin Police Chief Joe Chacon said in a statement.
In addition to the 30×30 Initiative pledge, APD’s recruiting unit is spotlighting the women among the ranks of officers every day in March for Women’s History Month on Twitter.
“Today, I was honored to take a monumental step with @Austin_Police and sign the 30×30 Initiative pledge in which we aim to have 30% representation of women in our recruit classes by 2030,” Chacon posted on Twitter.
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