Take your own community. Is it a factory town where a good many girls and women are employed in mills of one kind or another? If so, a policewoman, with additional powers conferred by your local board of health, might be of very great assistance in making careful investigation at regular periods of the buildings, equipment, and of the accomodations provided for the workers. She should be trained, so as to judge intelligently of dangers from fire which may exist; of the ventilation, lighting system, the supply of drinking water, the toilet facilities. Now and then she might be able, through quiet, friendly conference with the factory's manager, to suggest that a rest-room could be installed at very little expense, and a room set apart as an emergency hospital with first-aid equipment.
With the official approval of the local board of education she could, in all probability, perform far better than any man the duties of a truant officer, and in the smaller communities this would occupy little time, and be a saving to the public treasury. Right here dovetails her work as a factory visitor, and doubles her value to the community; for with her knowledge of school conditions, her acquaintance with boys and girls in school, she could hardly help being able to recommend this one or that one for a job open in the factory when the pupil leaves school. Furthermore, as soon as she should become recognized as an officer whose special work is with women and girls, and young boys, her advice would be sought more often than one imagines. The average criminal in the United States is arrested for the first time somewhere between the ages of fifteen and nineteen years. It is in that critical period following regular school-life that the boy begins to go wrong -- when he gets his first job, and feels free of the restraint that teachers and school-hours formerly imposed. It is then that the boy, and the girl as well, commences to hang around the streets at night, to frequent cheap shows that seldom are intelligently censored, to attend dances and picnics of the kind that too frequently form a menace to continued right living.
Now the policewoman who attempts to act as a public critic will almost invariably develop into a nuisance, and end as a failure. But the right kind of policewoman will have innumerable opportunities to advise with the individual boy or girl whom she sees starting on the down hill. This advice will be resented, unquestionably, if the policewoman goes at the boy or the girl in any other than the kindest, friendliest spirit. But if the boy or girl, and the parents as well, understand that the policewoman is their friend, her counsels will be heeded.
The investigation of cases through which either women or children are brought into a police court constitutes, perhaps, one of the most important opportunities for a policewoman to be of real service to the community which employs her. She could visit the home of the child or the woman under arrest, and ascertain in countless instances what caused the crime to be committed. It might be abject poverty, almost to the point of starvation, that forced one or the other to steal food, or to steal some article to sell in order to obtain food. Drunkenness, and the misery accompanying it, is frequently a cause of minor infractions of the law. Lazy, shiftless parents, who refuse to work, not infrequently send their children out to get money somehow, and do not limit their efforts to honest methods.
Not long ago I was sitting on the bench of the Juvenile Court in New York City, at invitation of the presiding judge, becoming sicker and sicker at heart as one case after another came up for trial, as one boy or one girl after another was sentenced, who but a few years previous had been full of love and laughter, and innocent as any ever born into the world. Finally a little fellow of eleven or twelve was brought forward on a charge of burglary. He had been arraigned and tried some days earlier. The judge had hada special investigation made of his case, hoping to put his finger on the cause of the boy's downfall, and to remove it; but this merciful wish was in vain. And here stood the child facing a term of incarceration; and with him his father, a gray-haired man of excellent appearance and unusual intelligence, almost broken-hearted. Very kindly did the judge speak to the father, asking whether he could suggest anything else for his little son but a term in the reformatory institution. The father, tears running down his face, shook his head; and sentnce was pronounced. Both father and son were taken by an attendant to a detention room in another part of the juvenile court building, and soon I followed them there. We talked for the better part of an hour, we three. The boy snuggled up to his father on a deep wooden bench, the father's arms about him, and together they told the story -- interrupted, you may be sure, by tears and sobs from each.
The father was a wheelwright, so skilled that he always had plenty of work. Two years previous his wife had died, leaving this boy and another still younger.
"I let them take little Robbie to a home for children," the grief-stricken man said, "for he was too young to be around the house when I was at work. But I thought it would be all right to keep this one, Georgie, at home, because he was nine then, and he was in school most of the day, and could only be on the streets two hours after school before I got home from work. Yes, sir, we lived in a tenement, and I left for work at six and got back there by six at night...It was wrong in me -- I see it now -- wrong to try and keep Georgie at home...But my wife was gone, my little Robbie was in a home, and I just couldn't -- I just couldn't send Georgie away, too; he was all I had to live for...And when school was over he got to running with bad boys in the street, and now I know he was stealing little things when he got the chance.
"And then, a week or so ago, some older boys paid him a dollar to break into the window of a store and hand them a lot of boxes filled with cigars. While he was inside a policeman came up, and the big boys outside ran off into the darkness, but he caught my Georgie. The detectives at the station tried to make him tell who the other boys were, but he doesn't know them -- never saw them until that night."
"And now?" I asked.
"And now, sir, I've got to send him away. I don't dare have him home alone anymore, even if the judge would let him off, him being so young and not knowing, rightly, what he was doing."
"Oh, daddy!" The two words gushed from the childish form next the shaken father with a tragic note of depair that I do not wish to hear again. The two were clasped in each other's arms, tears were raining down both faces; and as I walked away I could hear the father trying to say:
"Daddy doesn't want to send Georgie away -- daddy doesn't want to -- but Daddy must -- Daddy must --"
Is this a rare instance? I think not. In one form or another it is probably repeated daily in a thousand communities, large and small -- of children left uncared for at home all day long because the parents are away at work, or in hospital, or even in jail, or insane asylums. And the right kind of policewoman, even in a crowded neighborhood, might have been able to warn Georgie's father long before of the dangers that surrounded the child who was running about the streets every afternoon and in the early evening.
Take another phase of work for policewomen, admirably described by R.A. Hamilton, Commissioner of Public Safety, of Rochester, New York. That city employs one woman on its force, and pays her $1080 per year, the salary of a regular patrolman. Like almost all other policewomen she wears a badge of authority, but does not wear a distinctive uniform. And her principal work is to advice and protect susceptible girls and women from vicious influences, thus preventing them from getting into situations which would mean their arrest.
Commissioner Hamilton's statement so well describes an important type of work that it is quoted at length:
"Rochester's one policewoman," he writes, "spends a great deal of time in moving-picture theaters, hotels, department stores, dance halls, and other places where young girls may come under unfortunate influences. Of such girls she is the Mother-General, forestalling the tempter and betrayer in their purposes. When young women have a tendency to get into trouble with the police she visits them in their homes, and gets acquainted with their mothers and their home conditions. Proprietors of public places know her, and in most cases cooperate in her work. She also is successful to an appreciable extent in obtaining the good-will of business men who are more and more offering to employ unfortunate girls and women."
The city of St. Paul finds that policewomen have been very helpful, and that they observe many things which a male police officer overlooks or misunderstands. They aim especially, in St. Paul, to watch the conduct of girls on the streets; to follow closely the arrival of strange girls at the railway stations, and to give these strangers advice as to what to avoid in the city. In addition, they keep oversight of dance-halls, and generally lend assistance to girls who are obliged to be on the street either by day or by night. And in the brief report from St. Paul may be seen a distinct type of work for the policewoman in many a city or town through which runs a railroad or trolley-line. The average person residing in even a small village might be surprised to learn of the number of travelers who arrive from time to time and need more advice or assistance than the station-agent or the ordinary policeman can give. Some of these travelers are aged men or frail women, others are invalids, or semi-invalids; in not a few instances people get off trains because they have lost their railway tickets, or because their money has been stolen, because they have been taken suddenly ill, or have lost their way; and in every community of size, boys and girls from the country, as well as women unaccustomed to the noise and confusion of a busy town, are arriving every little while in search of work.
It is right here that the kind of policewoman may prove her service valuable. The dangers awaiting girls and young women in the great cities are so well recognized that through private charity is maintained a country-wide organization called the Travelers' Aid. This has trained women agents whose business it is to meet every train and ask every young girl who appears to be a stranger whether they can help her find a respectable boarding-house or in any other way.
It may be said, however, that even with such opportunities as have been outlined a policewoman would find littel to do in communities of only two or three thousand population. This does not bear out the experience of a student of social conditions. It is exactly in that kind of a town or village that I have found greated need for a calm, level-headed woman who is paid to devote her entire time to the public welfare. Few communities of the size feel that they can afford to pay the salary of a woman trained in social service, although experience might prove in many a case that removal of the causes of poverty in individual families would result from intelligent effort, and that in this way the salary expense would be more than offset. I venture to say that through friendly visits to the homes of the more ignorant and poor of the community, a policewoman would be able to discover and aid in remedying conditions of drainage, ventilation, inadequate food and clothing, reckless diet, and overwork, which are the more serious to the public welfare because unknown at present.
It is not unlikely that additional duties for a policewoman to perform may be found in small communities, and that she could help materially to solve the individual problems which almost always are present. But before any village or city adds a woman to its police force there should be full realization of the fact that her duties are immeasurably more delicate and complex than those of a policeman, and that great care must be exercised in selecting the right kind of a woman.
First of all, then, the community intending to add a woman to its police force should decide just what this officer's business is to be, and have it thoroughly understood by its residents. And then sufficient time should be taken to find the woman most nearly adapted to the work. She must be, of course, a woman of unusual physique, for she will have to be at her work in snow and heavy rain, in freezing Winter and in blistering Summer, as well as in pleasant weather. Then she must be a woman of sympathy, of poise, sound judgement, and a keen sense of justice. She should be sworn in as a regular member of the force; she should be given full authority, and should be held as rigidly accountable for the performance of her difficult duties as policemen are held responsible for their far less difficult work.
Owing to the wide sweep of her responsibilities, the countless ways in which she will touch home life, public amusement places, the streets, railway stations, parks, playgrounds, schools, health conditions, and possibly industrial enterprises, it is of first importance that she be a woman of sound common sense. The community which finds and employs a policewoman of that rare type will seldom regret the step taken, if we may judge from the testimony of cities which have tried the experiment. But it will prove to be not an easy manner to find such a woman; and when engaged she should be paid as high a salary as any patrolman on the force.
Not all of the American cities have succeeded in solving the problem of a policewoman's duties. In at least one town in the Middle West the present mayor, as one of his first acts after inauguration, discharged two policewomen. He says that he was unable to find out what they ought to do, and apparently they could not help him in this direction. In all probability the trouble came not because policewomen were not needed, but because the right type had not been selected, and also because this community had not determined in advance just what the duties of the policewoman should be. It is noteworthy that cities even as large as Chicago report that their policewomen are performing services almost invaluable -- services, moreover, which policemen formerly did not perform, and which policemen or other men could hardly be expected to perform.
If your town wishes to employ a policewoman it might be part of wisdom, in the beginning, to give her a very few, but very definite duties. And as she proved capable of performing these, then to enlarge her field of work gradually, and step by step. In this way success might be achieved which would never result otherwise. Also, if your first selection as policewoman showed that she did not possess the judgement, poise and common sense necessary, it would be easy to appoint another in her place, and avoid embarassing and unfortunate mistakes.
Finally, if my advice were sought by any community large or small, I would suggest the appointment of a policewoman for a period of a few weeks or a few months of probation, with the understanding that she would have to resign if asked to do so before that period of experiment was over, provided she showed herself, in the judgement of municipal authorities, to be unsuited to the work. In no event would I advise the employment of a woman -- or a man, either -- in this new and delicate field of police work unless it were understood that such an engagement was in the nature of an experiment which might or might not be continued. Thus a policewoman would feel free to resign at any time, giving reasonable notice; and the local government would feel perfectly free to terminate her engagement at any time, on correspondingly reasonable notice, if it were decided that the individual woman so employed was not successful. In conclusion, it may be said that the need for policewomen in certain localities has been proved to be so important that in at least one city of the Atlantic seaboard a young woman, simply as a matter of public service, is on constant duty, and gladly does her part as a citizen without asking or receiving a cent of salary.
There is no question that the coming years will see women generally employed by American cities as members of the police force. A good beginning has been made in the larger municipalities; the serious problems encountered are being solved more and more, and the time is at hand when smaller communinities will seriously consider this development in their oversight of public morals and public places.