Fri
Mar 3 2017 3:00pm

Fictional Women with a Badge: A Female Cop’s Perspective

Isabella Maldonado, author of Blood's Echo and a police officer for 22 years, discusses the shifting perception of women on the police force in both fiction and real life. Read this exclusive guest post, and then make sure to sign in and comment below for a chance to win the 1st Veranda Cruz Mystery! 

I confess to a love-hate relationship with police procedurals—be they novels, TV shows, or movies. After 22 years wearing a gun and badge, I’ve followed the shifting image of the female police officer/detective with interest. For the most part, the fictional representation of women on the job has mirrored my actual experience. But that's not necessarily a good thing.

When I first joined the force in 1988, I had dared to cross another type of thin blue line. On my first day at the police station, a grizzled old patrol officer walked up to me, folded his beefy arms across his chest, and said, “Women have no place in law enforcement.” He spun on his heel and stalked off. That was my official welcome to the squad.

The public response when I showed up on the scene varied. Some people refused to take me seriously, preferring to wait for a “real policeman” to arrive. Others had no idea what to call me. “Do I call you a police woman, or a police lady?” I stifled a groan as I replied, “Police officer will do.”

I shouldn’t have been surprised. After all, according to the famous intro to an iconic TV series, Charlie’s Angels had to leave the LAPD to work as PIs in the face of rampant discrimination on the force. The fact that TV producers considered this a viable way to introduce the show’s premise demonstrates the zeitgeist of the era—mainly that women couldn’t be taken seriously as police officers. 

Fortunately, female police officers’ treatment, both fictional and real, has improved dramatically. Some characters—in print and on the screen—have made an impression. Angie Dickinson as Pepper Anderson on the show Police Woman had to undress and get in the shower a lot. I guess she got sweaty chasing all those bad guys. But hats off when Fargo came out in theaters in 1996. Featuring a very pregnant female police chief who solves a particularly grisly murder was a gamble that paid off. Audiences loved Marge Gunderson, whose unassuming brilliance rivaled that of Columbo.

While television and cinema struggled with how to portray female cops, novels did the same. In the wake of earlier pulp fiction stories where “dames” were either victims or femme fatales, a new breed of woman emerged. In 1988, Thomas Harris penned Silence of the Lambs, the 2nd book involving his infamous villain, Hannibal Lecter. This time, however, Hannibal was pitted against female FBI Agent Clarice Starling. When the movie came out, I was thrilled with Jodie Foster’s portrayal. In fact, years later when I ran the famous FBI obstacle course in Quantico, I pictured her character running next to me.

In the same period, remarkable for many reasons, was Eleanor Taylor Bland’s 1992 introduction of Det. Marti McAlister in Dead Time. A black female police officer raising two children on her own (she was widowed) broke many barriers at the time and is still unusual in popular crime fiction.

The new millennium brought a fresh wave of police female leads in novels. Alex Kava, Karin Slaughter, Robin Burcell, and Lisa Gardner all created compelling examples of strong women in law enforcement who could hold their own in a tough environment. Readers went wild for their characters, and I rejoiced in the change as well. Tess Gerritson gave the world Jane Rizzoli (and her male partner) in The Surgeon. Fans believe the books got even better when Isles came along, and the series exploded onto the scene. 

Even prominent male authors such as James Patterson joined the tide. After its inception in 1st to Die, his Women’s Murder Club series has been a huge hit. Det. Lindsay Boxer, unlike many male fictional detectives, is not an emotionally unavailable loner and collaborates with her colleagues to get the job done.

Now that we’re well into the second decade of the new millennium, it’s illuminating to revisit the television female cop persona. In shows such as Law & Order and Castle, among others, women on the force seem to be having a lot more fun. They get to be tough but sexy at the same time. They are allowed to actually shoot people, get in fights, and yes, get their butts kicked sometimes.

I was always bothered by earlier incarnations of the female officer/detective who had mad ninja skills and was able to take out a 250-pound linebacker without mussing her hair. That’s a load of caca. I speak from experience. When a guy that big doesn’t want to go to jail, it’s best to find another way to lock him up rather than go hands-on. As one of my sergeants used to say, “Dudes like that are why Tasers were invented.”

In general, I like the current depiction of fictional women in law enforcement. They more closely represent the real deal, with a few exceptions. One of which is wardrobe. Back when I worked in uniform patrol in the late 80’s, an elderly lady asked me why every female police officer she saw in real life was flat-chested. I’m not kidding. This really happened. I explained to her that we were every bit as curvy as our civilian counterparts, but we wore ballistic vests under our shirts that gave us the general profile of a fire hydrant.

Turns out she was comparing me to Heather Locklear in TJ Hooker because I also had to explain why real uniformed cops don’t have long locks flowing down their backs in feathery waves. She shook her head sadly as we parted, glad that I had cleared these highly vexing issues up for her but lamenting my department’s refusal to allow me to “be more feminine” because she thought I could be pretty if given half a chance.

Perhaps the impromptu conversation was emblematic of the time, but a part of me does wonder if we have changed enough. Real female cops come in all sizes, shapes, colors, and ethnicities. We’re seeing a bit more diversity in fictional portrayals, which is a good thing. My series is set in Phoenix and features Veranda Cruz, a Latina police detective. She’s strong, street-smart, and complicated. She has a metric ton of backstory, which I enjoy delving into a bit further in each book. 

As a law enforcement professional who is a woman, I strive to do justice to my sisters in blue when I write. As an author, I have the opportunity to create stories that mirror life and three-dimensional characters readers can feel on the page.
 

Comment below for a chance to win a copy of Blood's Echo by Isabella Maldonado!

To enter, make sure you're a registered member of the site and simply leave a comment below.

TIP: Since only comments from registered users will be tabulated, if your user name appears in red above your comment—STOP—go log in, then try commenting again. If your user name appears in black above your comment, You’re In!

Blood's Echo Comment Sweepstakes: NO PURCHASE NECESSARY TO ENTER OR WIN.  A purchase does not improve your chances of winning.  Sweepstakes open to legal residents of 50 United States, D.C., and Canada (excluding Quebec), who are 18 years or older as of the date of entry.  To enter, complete the “Post a Comment” entry at https://www.criminalelement.com/blogs/2017/03/fictional-women-with-a-badge-a-female-cops-perspective-comment-sweepstakes beginning at 3:00 p.m. Eastern Time (ET) March 3, 2017. Sweepstakes ends 2:59 p.m. ET March 10, 2017. Void outside the United States and Canada and where prohibited by law. Please see full details and official rules here. Sponsor: Macmillan, 175 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10010.

 

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Isabella Maldonado retired from law enforcement as a Commander of Special Investigations and Forensics. During her long career, she was recognized with a Meritorious Service Award and a Lifesaving Award, and she was selected to attend executive management training at the FBI’s National Academy. Isabella is the immediate past president of the Phoenix chapter of Sisters In Crime. She lives in Mesa, Arizona.

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63 comments
John Quiring
1. kamandi
Interesting, I'd love a chance to read it.
Gordon Bingham
2. gordonbingham
My wife has been in law enforcement over 30 years. I know she will enjoy this one! I only have 20 plus years in, but it looks like a winner to me too!
John Smith
4. jsmith2jsmith
Heather Locklear in a police uniform: inherently comical.
James Joyce
5. JamesPatrickJoyce
I always thought of Heather Locklear as more of a brainy science type, than a police officer. But I suppose that's just obvious.
zarah
6. zarahf
What an interesting subject. Looking forward to it.
Angie Simmonds
7. aksimmo67
I would love to read the POV about women in police force changing. Thank you!
Deb Philippon
8. DebP
I found this to be a very interesting read, having just finished a book on the changing role of women sleuths from the early 1900s. I'm looking forward to reading Maldonado's book. Wish me luck!
Theresa
9. theresajs
I love reading police procedurals! this book sounds really intersting!
thanks for this giveaway!
Grace Koshida
10. koshidag
Interesting article, and thanks for the chance to win Blood's Echo.
11. Linda A
Police woman was like Columbo, a bumbling genius.
Clydia DeFreese
13. clydia
I love reading about all the different mystery authors. Who knew there were so many? "So many different books to read; so little time." I must get started. Thanks for all of your suggestions.
Deborah Dumm
14. deb730
This sounds like a real interesting book.
Pearl Berger
15. Sunshine
Thanks for this fascinating article and the book would be captivating.
pearl berger
17. beach
Police procedurals interest me greatly. Thanks for this interesting feature.
Michele Baron
18. angel320
I enjoy police stories and movies...portraying a female cop as more than window dressing is great
ellie lewis
19. italia
Blood's Echo sounds enthralling. Thanks for your informative article.
Janice Santillo
20. themommazie
Interesting ideas on women police officers. Would be interested in further discussion.
Janice Milliken
21. msjiva
Crime, blood, guts and women with badges after the bad guys...count me in!
Gregory Sparks
23. sparkplug54
Equal time.Women are smart, too. I want to read about this strong, smart woman with a lot of backstory. That backstory makes the character come alive.
Carl
26. Carl Scott
There are lots of female officers where I live and I'm a huge fan of Fargo, both the movie and the TV series. Thanks for the chance to win this great looking book.
Lori Provenzano
27. Mountainesque
Very interesting to read about real-life comparisons to the depictions of female officers in movies and TV. Here's hoping the tides of change wear away at the stereotypes that remain.
Terry Pearson
28. hippiechick1955
lol love the Fargo GIF but where is tough cop Angie Dickinson?
Beth Talmage
29. wordygirl
If Veranda's voice is anywhere near as intelligent, straight-forward, and sensible as Isabella's, I'm going to love this series!
Terrie Ash
30. teria222
Definitely going on my 'want to read' list.
Darlene Slocum
31. darandsam
I have great respect for female officers. Their presense can lessen the tension in many cases and avoid more serious problems.
Joyce Mitchell
32. JoyceLm
Loved the article. Know I'm going to love the book - hope I win. Thanks.
Susan Pertierra
33. orchidlady01
I went to school in Tucson and would love to read about female police officers set in Arizona.
Joyce Lokitus
34. Joyce710113
In the early 80's I was in ROTC with plans for Army enlistment. However, I fell in love so that was not to be. Instead I completed college with a degree in Logistics with an emphasis in Transportation. There were not many women in the field then. I received sometimes not very nice comments from many men as I negotiated motor rates, managed a hopper car fleet, and scouted warehouses. Over the years that field has changed for women with almost half graduating as men and the field is now called Supply Chain Management. It interests me to see fields where women have progressed so I appreciate reading about your experiences as a female police officer in the article you wrote. I look forward to reading your book as well. Thank you.
Michael Carter
35. rubydog
This novel looks really interesting.
Yes, please enter me in this sweepstakes.
Thanks!
Jeana Keller
37. StuffSmart
Very interesting article on the history of women as law enforcement in film and television.
susan beamon
39. susanbeamon
Very interesting interview. I'm glad we are very slowly moving toward a gender free workplace, but it is still far from what it could be. Sure would love to win a copy of the book.
Wilifred Alire
40. walire
I just read the great reviews on Goodreads after reading Ms. Maldonato's article. I'd love to read this mystery.
Gail Malane
41. Kivrin55@aol.com
I was a police/fire dispatcher for 26 years and saw the first of many female officers hired on our local police force. Just recently we had one of our female officers become a Captain. I know that I would enjoy reading Blood's Echo.
Laurent Latulippe
42. krag48
Great article, looking forward to reading the book.
Susan Hoover
43. susanhoover@ns.sympatico.ca
I love her comment about the vest that makes her flat-chested and the old lady who wanted her to be more feminine. I imagine the flowing hair would be great for a perp to grab on. You go girl. I love your stories!
Rena Sollish
44. Rena
Interesting article. Would love to read the book too!
Jean Dickinson
46. justjean
Thanx for "introducing" me to Isabella Maldonado and I've made a note of "Blood's Echo". I enjoy LEO-based novels, especially highlighting women in police work.
Carolyn Bybee
51. CSB
Interesting article and perfect timing that this book is released during Women's History Month.
vicki wurgler
52. bison61
thanks for the giveaway-enjoyed reading the article
Tricia Blount
53. wynne68
Great idea for a contest. :) I enjoy police detective stories.
bambi shelley
55. bambishelley
enjoyed this article. police officers often join that line of work because they care about their communities and want to help people. I find true crime and novels written by actual members of law enforcement to be highly interesting. They've seen so much , they know so much of human nature and the human condition.
Carol Turner
58. cjpturner
Sounds like a book I'll like - and those are getting thin on the ground these days. Thank you!
Sharon E Simmons
60. Embay15
I would love a chance to read this! It sounds awesome!
Jeffrey Raiffe
61. njguy12@gmail.com
I can think of several female cops that I know who are feminine but could also run and shoot just as well as their male cop friends.
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