Successful Recruitment of Female Officers


“You want to recruit more women? Tell the truth about policing.”

Sergeant Charmin J. Leon with the City of Cleveland Division of Police discussed Successful Recruiting Techniques for Reaching Female Officers at IEN’s Officer Recruitment & Retention conference in late 2018.

Sergeant Leon’s dynamic presentation covered:

  • Policies and practices for recruiting and retaining diverse candidates
  • Eliminating obstacles and bias from the selection process
  • Stopping and preventing harassment, discrimination, and retaliation in your department

Watch her full presentation:

November 27, 2018 | San Francisco, CA

A 2020 Assessment of Recruitment of Female and Minority Officers

We followed up in May with Sergeant Leon to gain her insights on the present-day state of her agency’s efforts and what she sees in our country.

What improvements have you seen in the last year for the recruitment of women and minorities in our country?

Positive Change: Women in leadership

"For the recruitment of women generally, what has been amazing is seeing all of the women across the board in this profession promote. We have more women chiefs now, we have more minority women chiefs and commanders. The opportunity for women and the benefits that divisions get from it have just really exploded. This helps us with recruitment because women envision themselves not only in law enforcement but as change agents. One of the most prominent change agents in law enforcement and in training is Susan Rahr out of Washington. She has really changed the game as far as reminding officers and the public that our main job is to protect people's constitutional rights."

Positive Change: More young women

"Here in Cleveland we’ve seen an increase in our female and minority female recruitment, as well as young women. Young people today are different, they are “digital natives." They bring the skill set of the digital world to us. It's so interesting because those of us who are in recruitment now can be called “old-heads.” The young people stop by often and make suggestions like, "You posted something the other day. You might want to think about doing it this way, or doing it that way.” Or, “You used an old meme that's no longer relevant or resonating." And that's so much fun! They know we engage them. We send out emails to them while they're still in the academy and still training, saying, "Hey, just checking in. Making sure you guys are good. You have any suggestions for us?" And trust me, they have no problem telling you."

Concerning Reality: Administration that is not empowering women

"A bad change that I have seen is that we have an administration now that is misogynistic. It just is. They don't empower women at that level. As an example, the Fraternal Order of Police sends out a national magazine, and a recent issue talks about having “one voice” for law enforcement. The cover photo is all men, all white men. There's one black man in there and it says "Speaking with one voice, FOP makes an impact at the highest level." This is disgusting. Our ideal candidate for recruitment is someone who is really interested in policing, who wants to serve their community, who’s a lifelong learner and critical thinker, and who’s someone who prepares themselves. That ideal candidate is going to do research on the profession, and if they see that journal cover, that's such a turn off."

Concerning Reality: We aren’t owning the corrupt history of policing

"We have to own that our history of police in the United States is not Sir Robert Peel of London. That's the ideal. The history of police in the United States is Tammany Hall and Boss Tweed. It was built on corruption and we've never addressed that. We need to attack the problem at the root. In addition, the influx of the extremist groups and people who seemingly came to this profession for the express reason of criminalizing and killing black and brown communities are going "full-court press." This all plays into recruitment of minorities, and has now become my main objective and concern."

What successes or concerns have you had in the last year for the recruitment of women at the City of Cleveland specifically?

Positive Statistics: Women and minorities entering the Academy

"When I gave the conference presentation in November 2018, the most recent class had 49 people. 12% were women and 47% were minorities, at 51% women and minorities, which is good.

The following class (143rd academy) began with 35% women and 38% minorities, at 62% women and minorities out of 66 cadets. 50 graduated, and at that time, we were left with 34% women and 32% minorities, which was also good.

The following class (144th academy) began with 31% women and 45% minorities, at 59% women and minorities. We graduated 20% of women and 39% minorities, leaving us with 49% women and minorities.

Our 145th academy class just completed, and we graduated 33% women and 43% minorities, at 55% women and minorities.

Anything over 17% or 20%, and you know you’re hitting it out of the park."

Concerning Trend: Losing women and minorities during the Academy

"What I’m focusing on now is how many women and minorities are graduating from the academy.

For the 143rd Academy, we:
Started with 35% women, graduated 34% women
Started with 38% minorities, graduated 32% minorities

For the 144th Academy, we:
Started with 31% women, graduated 20% women
Started with 45% minorities, graduated 39% minorities
Started with 59% women and minorities, graduated 49% women and minorities

We have started to see a trend where formerly, if a black female entered the academy it was very unlikely they left. If they left, it was typically because of legitimate disqualification. But for the most part, if a black woman got into the academy, they were going to graduate. In our last two classes, we have found that black females are leaving the academy in numbers that we have never seen before.

So I have spoken with the chief about this because I want to know: Are they being pushed out by folks in the academy? Our academy should be reflective of the diversity of the city. This pandemic put a screeching halt on so many things and this issue is one of them. I plan to get face to face time with the chief and the commander of the training section to unpack this. What's going on? Are they being pushed out?

Additionally, right before COVID, we were working with Case Western Reserve University and our own data analyst Dr. Raina Issa to create a survey tool with structured questions. Because in this profession, we need data to backup the tangibles. They created a SurveyMonkey and they're beginning to send it out to all these folks to get the information of why they left. In more sophisticated agencies they do exit interviews, but we're not there yet. We need to be able to quantify or translate the responses to an actionable plan to address issues. So as soon as they created the survey, everybody approved it, and they sent it out, the university shut down because of the pandemic. So we haven't heard from them yet."

Can you comment on any current trends or changes in recruitment advertising?

"They're including a lot more women! It's a beautiful thing to see. You're hard pressed now to find a recruitment video in any department that does not only include women, but almost highlight them. That's the trend that we have seen with that. They're not going to put a damn thing in print or online without a woman included, as it should be."

Frustration: Lack of national standard for advertising

"There are still some SWAT-heavy type ads like I mentioned in my presentation. I mean I saw one not too long ago and I could not believe that it was a recent video, I was just so dismayed. This can happen for three reasons. Either they intentionally don't give a damn, they’re incompetent and not getting the information they need, or they really are indifferent. And all of those things are a recipe for disaster.

Ideally, we would have a national standard for these things, similar to the Project Management Institute, for example. But with policing, everybody wants to be the authority, and so we have like 50 million different associations for police in America. It is ridiculous. If we did have a national standard, then information would get to agencies regarding what we don't want to do in a recruitment video, especially if you want to hire women. Instead, there are agencies that are just fine with the status quo. They all say they want women and minorities, but you don't find any practice that they employ that supports what they're saying. So it’s a lie. "Oh, we want women and minorities!" Try to see if they hire one. They put it on their applications to comply with EEOC standard regulations but they're not going to do it. And if they do, in short order they're going to try to desk her. "Oh, you just have to get through the academy and field training." "Oh, how would you like to be my secretary?"

Observation: It’s about serving the community

"So with the recruitment videos you have those that get it and those that don't. You have progressive agencies and those that are not. It is what it is. If you take the community these agencies are in and ask, "Hey are you getting the type of police services that you want?" If they are, then they're good! If they have a community that says, "We're fine with having an all male agency," then who are we? We get our power from consent of the community. The narrative out there has turned like it's the other way around, but it's not. So now we have communities that are saying they don't want the police there anymore. And I believe that you will start seeing municipalities change their charter and decide that they will choose to hire their own police forces. And right now, I don't blame them. I wouldn't want some of these folks in my neighborhood either. But if an agency is serving its community and the community is happy with the services that they are getting and they don't integrate, who are we to say that they need to. That's the home rule."

What would be your primary recommendations for agencies looking to recruit women today?

  1. Value them. You have to understand the value that women bring to your agency.

  2. Ensure that your messaging reflects the true story of policing. Stop acting like we're fighting, kicking doors down all day.

  3. Ensure that your academy is not a hostile environment for women and that at any time you find hostility towards women on patrol or anything like that, you address it immediately.

  4. Even during the pandemic, don’t rest on your laurels. The experts in the field of recruiting for employment state that even if you are even under a hiring freeze, please maintain content on your media sites. If you have the ability to do print and just kinda touch in with people, even if you do nothing but put up your CDC's recommendation to stay safe during this time, do that. If you want a high-performing agency, you’ll have the applicant pool for it when the hiring freeze is over.

Sgt. Charmin Leon began with the Cleveland Division of Police in February of 2008. She promoted to Sergeant in March of 2013 and was assigned to investigate complaints of police misconduct in the Office of Professional Standards. In January of 2016, Sgt. Leon was assigned as the Officer in Charge of the Personnel and Background unit. In 2017, she served as Acting Lieutenant of the Personnel Section overseeing the Units of Personnel, Medical, Timekeeping, Policy and Budget. She is a certified instructor for the Ohio Peace Officer Training Commission mainly training officers in Procedural Justice, Legitimacy and Implicit Bias.

Sgt. Leon is currently assigned as the Officer in Charge of the Public Safety Recruitment Team for the Police, Fire and EMS Divisions for the City of Cleveland.

Sgt. Leon has lived and worked in urban communities for over 30 years. Prior to becoming an officer in Cleveland, she was a Victims Advocate in the Domestic Violence Unit and a Home Detention Officer with Cuyahoga County Juvenile Court. She teaches the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives (NOBLE) curriculum: ‘The Law and Your Community’ to local high school students as well as facilitates the training ‘Policing the Teen Brain: Strategies for Youth’ to fellow officers.

Sgt. Leon has been an integral part in the revamping and implementation of new procedures in the hiring of the safety forces personnel; drafting requests for proposals and sitting on the committees selecting updated testing and psychological screenings. Beginning city wide community discussions in Barber and Beauty shops, residents have shown a renewed faith in employment in the safety forces as evidenced by an increase in female and minority applicants as well as acknowledgement by city council members echoing the residents’ enthusiasm. Because of the advancements in these areas and their subsequent successes, Sgt. Leon has become a frequently requested presenter at Officer Recruitment and Selection conferences throughout the US.

Get a chance to engage with other agencies in law enforcement recruitment discussion

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Insight Exchange Network
P.O. Box 3867
Santa Cruz, CA 95062
(831) 431-6668
[email protected]
Privacy Policy


Website by WebHolism