In the early 1980s, the New York City subways were forbidding, with robbers lurking in graffiti-covered cars. Very few women were on patrol, but Officer Irma Lozada took one of the most dangerous jobs: She hid her badge and draped fake gold chains around her neck, courting robbers to come after her in some of the most desperate parts of Brooklyn.
It was on one of these plainclothes assignments in 1984 when something went terribly wrong: Lozada chased a suspect, got separated from her partner and was killed after the suspect wrested her service revolver from her and shot her twice.
She became the first female officer killed in New York City history. So jolted was the police force by her death that, in the aftermath, some officers spoke of women being better off reassigned to office jobs, several people recalled.
It is a measure of how different things are that when another female officer, Miosotis Familia, was shot and killed last week, her gender was far less a focus than were the nondiscriminatory perils of her profession. There are now 6,394 female officers on a force of just over 36,000 in New York City. And across the nation, women have pushed their way into policing’s most demanding jobs. To them, Familia’s death was seen as a grim signifier of their growing front-line roles.
“All of us suffer that same risk, man and woman,” said Sheree Briscoe, a district commander for the Baltimore Police Department. “That’s what’s happening in the culture of policing.”
Familia was the third female New York City officer killed in action. The second was Officer Moira Smith, who died on Sept. 11, 2001. Elected leaders and police officers gathered on Monday at a Bronx church for Familia’s wake; her funeral will be held Tuesday morning.
Even as the risks have leveled, some female officers describe still having to prove to male colleagues that they are bold enough for the job. The boy’s club mentality that defined police departments for so long still surfaces, they say, in more modest locker room accommodations for women and gender-laden expectations.
Many officers, they say, still view sensitivity as a sign of weakness. And while some cities have recently turned to female chiefs to steer their departments away from problems with overaggressive policing, some women say proposing reforms opens them up to stereotypical accusations.
“If I show emotion, I’m weak,” said Janeé Harteau, the first female police chief in Minneapolis, who has been leading the force since 2012. “If I talk about de-escalation, 21st-century policing, I’m soft on crime and we need a guy to come in and fix it all. It surprises me that these conversations continue to occur.”
She said female officers tend to receive significantly fewer use of force complaints.
In New York City, the ranks of women in the most senior uniformed roles remain thin. Female officers made up almost 18 percent of the Police Department in April, compared with almost 16 percent in 2000, when they numbered 6,243 on a larger force. Women made up almost a quarter of the latest graduating class, among the highest percentages in history.
Of the city’s 77 police precincts, eight are led by female commanding officers, according to the Police Department’s website. Female commanders also direct two of the nine police service areas, which patrol public housing, and two of the 12 transit districts.
Joanne Jaffe, who as chief of community affairs is one of the department’s two highest-ranked female officers, said a women’s leadership committee has worked to ease officers’ transitions to sergeants. She said that she faced “tremendous challenges and obstacles” when she first joined the police, and that progress “has been gradual, or incremental.”
Now women “are almost fully integrated in all units of the department, and seeing a woman is not this shocking thing,” she said. “Seeing two women patrol together is not a big deal, it’s routine.”
Familia’s killing, officials said, was about a police officer being targeted for no reason but her uniform. For many, her killing evoked the fatal shootings of Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu in 2014, and of Edward Byrne in 1988, all of them killed as they sat in their patrol cars.
“What comes to mind is the ‘equality of risk,’ and that hatred for the police is not gender specific,” Assistant Chief Kim Royster said.
Women began in policing as matrons handling female prisoners in the late 1800s, said Thomas Reppetto, a police historian. Now they play central roles on detective squads and elite groups like the Emergency Service Unit. But the road there has not been without bumps.
A lawsuit in New York City cleared the way for women to take promotional exams and become sergeants in 1963; the next decade, separate titles — “policewoman” and “patrolman” — were retired, and women stopped wearing special hats.
The Policewomen’s Endowment Association helped fight for equal locker rooms, equal assignments and equal opportunities for promotions. Around 1990, the group pushed for pregnant women to be eligible for promotions.
Yet some male officers continued voicing reservations about working with women. As recently as 1995, a female officer in the 46th Precinct in the Bronx, where Familia worked, charged in a lawsuit that male officers harassed women by using sexist slurs and watching pornography in the station house.
Lozada entered the academy in 1981, a year after the city first had a substantial number of female officers graduate and be sent onto the streets. By 1984, she was one of about 150 women on the 3,500-officer transit police force, which was then independent from the Police Department. Female officers were so thinly spread that supervisors sometimes pulled her off assignments, even when she was about to nab a robber, to pat down a female suspect her male colleagues had arrested.
“She used to hate that,” recalled Dennis K. Honor, a retired second-grade detective who was Lozada’s fiancé.
Known as Fran, she carved out her own path at a time when many women were struggling to fit in. She spoke of “rocking and rolling” on patrol and took pride in her many arrests, Honor said. She also sometimes wore makeup to work, which many female officers were reluctant to do for fear that male officers would not approve.
Lozada had a way of calming down suspects her male colleagues could not and spoke of wanting to become a lieutenant.
Familia, a single mother of three children who also took care of her mother, is said to have taken the overnight shift to spend time with her children. Many female officers recalled making the same choice over their careers so that they could pick their children up from school.
Some police officials worried Familia’s death would discourage other women. But Susan M. Czubay, who retired as a New York City lieutenant in 2008, said the inequities she saw in reactions to Lozada’s death partly motivated her to join the police in 1985.
“I remember the news at that time was almost blaming the fact that she was a woman, in that situation — that that’s why she was killed,” Czubay said. “I remember feeling outraged.”
Reporting was contributed by Isvett Verde, Sean Piccoli, Emily Palmer and Bryan Murray. Susan C. Beachy contributed research.