A star with lace ruffles is exactly what Mrs. Wells does not want. She wears no uniform, carries no weapon, and as often as possible keeps her star in a handbag. Measuring not much over five feet, she has no idea of using physical force in the discharge of her duties, which are no less varied than those of her brother officers, and often identical with them. She goes about her work quietly and unostentatiously, with the hope of applying preventive rather than punitive measures, and eagerly taking advantage of the opportunity offered by her position for the study of crime, and particularly that phase of crime commonly known as the social evil.
This was her purpose in securing signatures to a petition asking for the necessary change in police regulations to admit a woman to the force, and in enlisting the influence of various organizations of men and women to secure her appointment to office when it became possible.
Mrs. Wells was for some years a religious student and worker in the East. Later in California she became interested in the scientific study of crime. Each experience illuminated the other, and she came to feel that the proper handling of crime should be regarded as one of the greatest fields of applied Christianity. In order to get at the very root of the question, she decided to become a policewoman. As she puts it:
"The police department represents the strategic point at which virtue can meet vice, strength can meet weakness, and guide them into preventive and redemptive channels."Continuing to discuss her motives in adopting this as her life work, Mrs. Wells says:
"The thinking world is more and more recognizing the causes of crime as a vital part of the problem of crime. Since many of these causes arise from improper home conditions, their correction necessarily depends in a large measure upon the intelligent co-operation of women. As all the world knows, the perfect home training of every child would largely elminate the need of police work. But we must take the situation as we find it, many degrees below the ideal.A specific instance of having a woman connected with the police department is that of a mother who came at once to Mrs. Wells and reported to her that more than a year previous her young daughter had been enticed by an evil-minded old man of the neighborhood into a vacant house. The mother had not learned of it until some time afterward, and then was loath to report it to the police. When she could talk to a woman about the matter, she did so with the purpose of having the man kept under surveillance, so that he might not be a menace to other girls of the neighborhood.
"Multitudes of young girls are walking up and down the streets of every city whose minds are so void of any real purpose in life that their controlling motive, apparently, is to dress and attract attention.
"In many instances their mothers are respectable, hard-working women who need the help of these idel, incapable, pleasure-seeking daughters. But, untrained themselves, they did not know how to implant early a loving co-operation and interest in the family duties, which constitute one of the very best safeguards any girl can have.
"Then there is the exceedingly difficult task of finding the happy medium between unquestioning servile obedience and the over-ruling of a child's growing personality and will. As all who deal with the erring know, a multitude of young people know no law but that of their own imperious wills. These things, together with wrong ideals, bad blood, poorly nourished bodies, and industrial strife, produce a large part of the tide endlessly sweeping into the precincts of the police.
"Under modern conditions, much of the remedy must be applied directly or indirectly must be applied directly or indirectly by women. Insistence upon a single standard of morality, the elevation of domestic service to a plane equal to other respected occupations, wider teaching of industrial arts and science, and other plain, vital truths in our public schools, will do much toward stemming the tide.
"One or more women in the police department ov every city can learn much concerning the need of changes in worn-out and ineffective laws, and the practical handling of wrongdoers, which other women can embody in their manifold labors for the city's good. This is more important than may be obvious. The police department is the organized, empowered body, and all other upbuilding social agencies should work in harmony with it. For lack of this, much well-intended, laborious effort goes wide of the mark.
"There is no doubt in my mind that with time the appointment of women police officers will work out much good along these fundamental lines, but in the meantime the innovation is proving its own justification day by day in the greater freedom and confidence with which girls and women appeal to the department for advice and protection, in the handling of special cases where a woman's sympathy may be more effective than a man's power, and in the care given to young girls or women brought to the police station for the first time, and who might otherwise come under the degrading influence of confinement with old offenders."
Mrs. Wells special duty is the inspection of penny arcades, moving picture shows, skating rinks, dance halls, and other places of public amusement, including the parks on Sunday. She has found that there is scarcely a penny arcade whose pictures are not suggestive of evil. In most cities the ordinances exclude only those pictures which are positively indecent, and in Mrs. Wells's opinion the restriction should cover those things which are suggestive, if the intention is to really protect the interest of the young.
Her duty in visiting picture shows is to see that no minors are admitted except in the company of a parent or legal guardian, and that no pictures are displayed at the entrance showing deeds of violent acts or questionable morality. This latter point is covered by the billboard ordinance, though the class of pictures shown to the audience is left to the discretion of the owner of the show. Believing that the moving picture show has come to stay, and that it has a definite place and purpose in furnishing entertainment at a price that few cannot afford, Mrs. Wells hopes to see a change in the class of pictures. On this point she says:
"While restrictions may not be welcomed by a certain element of unthinking people, they are for the ultimate good of the public. By cutting out objectionable classes of pictures -- those showing deeds of violence, or scenes of gilded vice, or acts of the spicy sort, all of which are detrimental to growing minds -- makers of films are compelled to develop rich fields of intensely interesting subjects which they otherwise would not enter. There is a field of wholesome humor almost underdeveloped, the little humor now existing being largely of burlesque order. Really humorous pictures rest tired people after the day's work, and are a distinct service in furnishing a good, wholesome laugh. Then there is the field of dramas and books and Old Testament stories, and much more that can made instructive as well as recreational, and satisfying to the very best taste."Another question is that of light in these picture show places. There is no longer need for a completely darkened room, and the same principle is involved as that which led to the insertion of a clause in the dance hall ordinance prohibiting "moonlight dances." In any case of violation of an existing ordinance Mrs. Wells has power to arrest the owner of these amusement places, and has done so in many instances. Where there is no ordinance, she suggests the elimination of undesirable features and the introduction of protective measures, and since these places are dependent on the police commission for a license to continue in business, they hardly dare ignore her requests.
Although Mrs. Wells has been in office but a few months, the demands on her time are so numerous that already she feels the need of an assistant, and there could be no better justification of her appointment. Yet always she insists:
"All one woman can do is but little -- to find the needs and point the way. Where she leaves off many women may begin and do much towards the betterment of social conditions."