While there are many ways to track the increase of women in law enforcement across the nation, at Beverly Hills PD, growth can be measured in square feet.
For the first 14 years that Lt. Elisabeth Albanese worked at Beverly Hills PD, the number of women officers hovered between eight and 10. Back then, the department’s two female locker rooms were already fairly small, just 13-by-13-square-feet for sworn personnel. Four officers couldn’t occupy the space at a time without bumping into each other.
Today, with 17 female police officers and 76 total female employees, Beverly Hills has officially progressed beyond outdated notions of what a police officer looks like. Female officers have broken ceilings, and now BHPD is breaking walls. Next month, the city will begin $350,000 renovations to expand the size of the female locker room to accommodate the growth in female hires.
The renovation will address the 13-locker shortage that women employees already experience and clear the way for an easier work environment for any new female hires. The plans also include a small lactation room, which, while required by law, is rare to find in a police department.
“It’s exciting that it’s not just that the space needs updating because it’s from the 80s. We need it because we have outgrown the space,” Albanese said. “It’s nice to see that our profession is increasing the number of female personnel, and that’s what makes this expansion necessary.”
As Albanese spoke, she was preparing to join 10 colleagues at the ninth annual Women Leaders in Law Enforcement Symposium in Santa Clara this week. The event is another measure of growth. Back when Albanese attended the first WLLE event in 2006, the one-day symposium attracted a few hundred people from across the state. This week’s three-day, sold-out event expects to draw more than 800 people nationwide.
According to WLLE’s Facebook page, the early days of the symposium addressed the needs of women in law enforcement “to come together, hear each other’s stories, support each other, train, and trade contact information and create bonds.”
In 2017, WLLE honored Beverly Hills Police Chief Sandra Spagnoli with the California Police Officers Association Trailblazer Award. BHPD representation at that symposium included male officers, something that Albanese always strives for in recruiting attendees.
“We think it’s important because if you’re working patrol, and your partner is female or your supervisor is a female, it’s important that we all understand the differences and unique challenges that women face in law enforcement,” she said.
Women make up around 18% of LAPD officers and around 13% of BHPD. Nationwide, the average is about 11.6%. So, while the numbers are increasing, there is still a long way to go, Albanese said. For example, while LA County has seven female police chiefs, nationwide, the number of female chiefs is around 1%.
“We’re seeing a shift from a predominately male profession to one in which there are more women and more women in leadership roles, but we’re still a long way off in terms of gender parity with other professions,” said Albanese, who started her career at BHPD in 2001.
Albanese is the daughter of Burbank PD Deputy Chief Michael Albanese. He spent 41 years at LAPD before moving over to Burbank, and the stories he’d tell about work, convinced her that law enforcement was the path she’d pursue.
“I knew I wanted to be in law enforcement from the time I was a young child,” she said. “The older I got, the more details I got about the types of incidents he was involved in. I thought it was an exciting and rewarding profession, and I was hooked.”
Friends convinced her to apply to BHPD 20 years ago, and she’s remained at the department ever since. While she met with some resistance from older colleagues at first, she’s watched the department – and the profession in general – change over the years.
It’s a change that can be measured in attendance to the WLLE symposium, a change that can be measured in the number of female police chiefs in LA County and a change that will be measured in available locker space.
“When I was hired, the women who were more senior, they were the trailblazers for our organization. They were they beginning of the shifting mindset,” she said. “Over the decades it’s slowly changing. And as we continue to move forward, we’re finally getting to the point where it’s not a thing.
“There should not be a discussion about our gender. The fact that I’m female shouldn’t mean anything different,” she said. “We’re just cops.”