The Metropolitan Police Service is celebrating 100 years of female police officers in the force
Back in 1917, a Daily Express reporter asked a Scotland Yard official: “Is there any possibility of women being employed as Police Constables?” The reply was “No, not even if the war lasts 50 years.”
They were proven wrong in February 1919 when the first female officers took to the streets of London, some 90 years after the Met was founded by Sir Robert Peel in 1829.
The Metropolitan Police Women Patrols initially comprised just 21 of these pioneering women but they quickly grew to be 112 strong (one superintendent, one assistant superintendent, ten patrol leaders and 100 patrols). Their pay was low and no pension rights were given. Their contracts were to be on a yearly ‘experimental’ basis and they were not to be called police women, they were to be called Women Patrols. They were not sworn in, nor were they given the power of arrest.
From the formation of the Women Patrols, these trailblazers worked in a variety of specialist but restricted roles until the women’s department was disbanded in 1973. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, more police officer roles, including specialist roles began to open up to women across the organisation.
Today, nearly 8,000 women officers occupy a huge range of influential and important roles across the organisation in every area of our work and at every rank. All operational policing roles are open to women whether that is running armed operations, supervising surveillance teams, carrying firearms or supporting victims of crime and abuse. The appointment of Commissioner Cressida Dick in 2017 shows that there truly are no limits to being a woman in the Met.
Today, the Commissioner wants to recruit more women than ever before, aiming long-term for 50 per cent of police officers to be women. At the moment, just under 27 per cent of officers are women. To achieve this, the Met has launched a recruitment campaign, specifically aimed at women, called Strong. The campaign aims to tackle the known barriers for women, challenge stereotypes and increase awareness of the wide range of HR initiatives already in place to support women in the workplace.
This career path is not just open to Londoners as the Commissioner has temporarily lifted the residency requirement for London in order to open up recruitment to the rest of the UK.
To celebrate 50 years since the first black female officer joined, the Met is appealing to Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) women to apply. The Met currently only has three per cent female BME officers, but the aspiration is to reach 20 per cent.
“I want to use this celebration to appeal to all women to consider having a career in the Met. Being a police officer is a diverse and challenging job, but it is extremely rewarding and you get to make a difference to so many people. There is no better time to be a woman in the Met,” said
Commissioner Cressida Dick.
Director of Human Resources, Clare Davies, said: “We know what’s important to women in our workplace and have listened to their feedback. Over the next 12 months we will implement a range of measures such as new ways of joining the Met, different career pathways, improved maternity support, and returnships. We have almost 8,000 female officers who are thriving in all our specialisms at almost every rank and we want even more talented women to join us.”
Meet three brilliant female officers here:
PC Karen Giles, the longest serving female officer
PC Jennifer Sharpling, rapid response driver
DS Charmain Brenyah, winner of a bravery award
Women in the MET: history timeline:
18 October 1918: Commissioner Sir Cecil Macready submits his proposal of an ‘experimental formation of a body of Women Police’ to the Secretary of State at the Home Office.
14 November 1918: Letter from the Secretary of State approving ‘experimental formation of a body of Women Police.’
16 November 1918: Daily News reports Metropolitan Police are recruiting Women Patrols. Aged 35 to 38, 5ft4ins, well read, writing legible, physically fit, no dependent children. 30 shillings a week plus 12 shillings War Bonus. Accommodation provided at 10 shillings a week.
22 November 1918: Commissioner Sir Cecil Macready officially announces that the Secretary of State has sanctioned the formation of a body of women patrols under his direct control.
23 December 1918: Police Order setting out terms and conditions of Women Patrols. The new body was to be designated the Women Police Patrol Division with authorised strength of:
• 1 Superintendent (Sofia Stanley)
• 1 Assistant Superintendent
• 10 Patrol Leaders for Sergeant duties
• 100 Police Patrols
30 December 1918: The first women began their training. They were taught police duty, first aid and foot drill. The training was over five weeks on the same lines as the male recruits.
February 1919: The first female officers began patrolling without uniform. Three were made sergeant straight away and given a third of London to supervise. They were Grace Russell, Patty Alliott and Lillian Wyles.
17 May 1919: Six Women Patrols appear in uniform for the first time at Westminster Abbey at the Service of Remembrance to Metropolitan Police Officers killed in the First Word War.
December 1919: An extract from the Commissioner’s report on Women Patrols. “Enough has been seen of their work to more than justify their existence, and during the coming year it will be possible to form a decided opinion as to their permanent continuance as a portion of the Metropolitan Force.”
1920: There were 112 employed women police in the Met. Only 126 women police in the rest of England and Wales.
1921: Inspector Lilian Wyles was actively engaged in trying to get CID to allow women to assist taking statements in sexual cases from girls. As a result, it was arranged that a certain number of picked women should go to Peel House for special instruction in statement taking and sexual offences.
1922: A committee of Parliament recommended disbanding the Women Patrols to save money. However, thanks to a successful debate by Lady Astor MP, the number was instead reduced to 20. It was agreed they would be increased to 50 as and when finance was available, but this was not accomplished until the end of 1925. It was also agreed they would be given the power of arrest and that they would be known as Women Police Constables.
1923: Female officers given the power of arrest.
December 1923: The first time women are referred to as Constables rather than Patrols.
1931: New Conditions of Service were introduced which required women officers to resign on marriage.
1937: Women Police were authorised to take fingerprints.
1944: WPC Bertha Massey Gleghorn was killed by a bomb whilst on duty at Tottenham Court Road on 19 June 1944. She was aged 33 and was the first women police officer to be killed whilst on duty.
1946: The marriage bar was removed.
1947: Woman Detective Sergeant Alberta Watts awarded Kings Police and Fire Service Medal for gallantry for acting as a decoy on Tooting Bec Common where women were being attacked and robbed. This was the first award of gallantry made to a Women Police Officer.
1948: The age limit was lowered from 24 to 20 as an experiment.
1955: WPCs Ethel Bush and Kathleen Parrott each receive the George Medal. After several women were attacked in Croydon they volunteered to act as decoys. Despite both being injured, they played a key role in identifying the attacker. The judge said: “I cannot imagine higher courage than you showed along that footpath.” A Chief Magistrate added: “If anyone can imagine a finer story in this history of the Metropolitan Police I should be pleased to hear it.”
1957: Women Detective Sergeants Shirley Becke and Barbara Kelley promoted to Detective Inspectors, the first two Women Detective Inspectors posted to Divisions for general duties.
1959: Woman Detective Constable appointed to Flying Squad.
1962: Age limit to join reduced to 19 years.
1968: 50 years on from formation of Women Patrols the Establishment is-
Rank Women Uniform Women CID
Chief Superintendent 1 –
Superintendent 1st class 2 –
Superintendent 2nd class 5 1
Chief Inspector 5 1
Inspector 25 6
Sergeant 64 17
Constable 478 66
Temporary Det. Constable – 26
Total 580 117 697
1968: First black woman police officer Sislin Fay Allen joins.
1969: Chief Superintendent Shirley Becke became the first woman Commander.
1971: First two women appointed as drug dog handlers.
1973: Police Women’s Department Disbanded
1974: Equal pay
1983: WPC Jane Arbuthnot killed with others by IRA bomb at Harrods.
1984: WPC Yvonne Fletcher killed whilst policing a demonstration outside the Libyan Embassy.
1986: Women issued with shorter truncheons.
1988: Women no longer precluded from becoming authorised firearms officers (AFO).
1989: 22 women trained as AFOs
1990: ‘W’ removed from WPC
1991: First female officer to join Firearms Unit
1997: PC Nina McKay stabbed to death, whilst performing duty as a TSG officer at Forest Gate.
1998: First two women appointed as Deputy Assistant Commissioners
2003: First woman appointed to lead the Flying Squad
2009: First female officer appointed Assistant Commissioner in Specialist Crime Directorate.
10 April 2017: Cressida Dick appointed first female Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police.
Breakdown of female officers (as of 31 October 2018)
Rank Overall Total:
Commander and above 5
Chief Superintendent 10
Detective Chief Superintendent 1
Detective Superintendent 24.21
Chief Inspector 25.76
Detective Chief Inspector 37
Detective Inspector 120.56
Police Sergeant 500.64
Detective Sergeant 363.46
Police Constable 4,862.39
Detective Constable 1,765.60
Police Officer Total 7,881.47