Ottawa Police struggling to recruit women

Months after an audit slammed Ottawa police for their poor record when it comes to gender representation, statistics about hiring practices show that the service has not increased the percentage of women in their most recent hiring class.

Of the 18 new recruits sworn in to the force in the second quarter of 2017, only four were women. Of the seven “experienced officer hires” who were hired in May, only one was female.

In total, only 20 per cent of the police officers who joined the force in the second quarter of 2017 were female—a figure that is below the force-wide average of 23 per cent female representation.

Insp. Carl Cartright, who leads recruitment for the police, said it’s a challenge they’re looking to address, but change will take some time.

“Once you have the momentum you can keep carrying on, but it takes a lot of officers to really move that needle.”

He said the new recruits are the best approach for diversifying the police force, because the experienced officer ranks are not diverse.

“You will get that diversity from the recruits.”

Cartright, who is of Haitian origin, said they have to go to communities that are not well represented in policing, including women, and take the case to them rather than simply waiting for recruits to just come to their door.

He said their strategy for that is to go to current members of the police force and ask them about why they joined the force.

 “What was it about policing that got you through the door, but didn’t get your neighbour” he said is the question they need to ask.

Last fall, a force-wide audit conducted as part of a human rights settlement found that women comprised only 23 per cent of Ottawa police officers—higher than the national average of 20 per cent, but a number that was deemed insufficient.

In May, Ottawa police updated their policies regarding internal hiring in hopes that it would make it easier for women to move up through the ranks. It did not, however, announce any policies aimed at improving gender representation at the recruitment stage.

Matt Skof, president of the police association (which supported and advocated for the gender audit last year), said that while the numbers don’t paint a pretty picture, it’s important to look at it from a wider perspective. “I would prefer to see the evolution take time and develop properly,” he said.

The union doesn’t have any input on the hiring process, and he said that from their perspective, setting targets—even if they aren’t necessarily always met—is preferable to setting quotas.

“Once you start setting quotas, that’s where you run into problems of longevity,” he said. What’s more important is finding suitable candidates, rather than meeting gender quotas at the expense of hiring people who will stay with the force for a long period of time.

– With files from Ryan Tumilty

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