Image: LA TIMES
Detective Rush. Detective Miller. Chief Johnson. These women and so many more are making an impact on law enforcement today, and it's all because of the handful of women who stepped up first. Today, we shine the light on one woman whose organizations and values have stood the test of time and paved the way for the next generation of law enforcement officers.
Meet Alice Stebbins Wells, the first women police officer to be admitted into the Los Angeles Police Department. Wells was born on June 13, 1873 in Manhattan, Kansas. She attended Oberlin College and Hartford Theological Seminary, where she was an avid student and served as a minister in Kansas over the Women's Christian Temperance Union. Throughout her experience, Wells noticed that law enforcement needed a woman's presence and voice to be heard when enforcing the law.
With a new passion to fuel her, she turned to the citizens of the country. She eventually landed in Los Angeles, California, where she petitioned the city for permission to join the LAPD. The outpouring of support from the community forced city officials to allow Wells her place amongst the LAPD. For the first time in history, a woman would serve as a police officer. To quote Wells, “This is serious work and I do hope the newspapers will not try to make fun of it. I think police work is a great work.”
She was sworn in on September 12, 1910. Her main inventory of supplies included a telephone call box key, a police rule book, and her badge, which read "Policewoman's Badge Number One". Despite being legally sworn in, she was not authorized to carry a gun. Wells was then tasked with creating her own police uniform, which took the form of a floor-length dress and a matching jacket. Her first assignments involved supervising the goings on at skating rinks and dance halls. She was also the first point of contact and interrogation when female citizens were involved in criminal activity.
What started as a drop in the pond resulted in a ripple effect. Two more female officers were sworn in to the LAPD. By 1915, sixteen more cities and several foreign country as a direct result of Wells' actions. She then created the International Policewomen's Association, a global organization for women in criminal justice professions. By 1937 there were 39 female officers in the LAPD.
Her career lasted until 1940. By the time she retired, Wells had also become the LAPD's official historian. She is remember for having "fought for the idea that women, as regular members of municipal police departments, are particularly well-qualified to perform protective and preventative work among juveniles and female criminals."
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