Elite police squads equip for women

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The Independent Online
WOMEN POLICE officers are to be issued with special equipment such as smaller guns, motorcycles and bullet-proof vests as they increasingly break into male-dominated elite squads.

Commander Judy Davison, president of the British Association of Women Police, revealed yesterday that a series of measures is being introduced to improve female representation in such units.Women officers find it difficult to take posts in specialist firearms units because they cannot get their fingers around the triggers of the Beretta and Heckler & Koch 9mm weapons the special forces favour.

Ms Davison's City of London force has introduced slimmer weapons, such as the small Glock 9mm handgun, and has also asked Honda to develop a police specification model of its NT 650V Deauville motorcycle, which is 74kg lighter than the standard-issue Honda ST1100.

The Metropolitan Police is pursuing a similar policy after concerns that women officers found powerful standard issuemotorbikes physically intimidating and too heavy to handle in traffic.

Ms Davison said the sheer bulk of the larger machine would be off-putting: "I can only say that as an individual who has never ridden a motorcycle, I find the size of the vehicle intimidating."

There are only a handful of women police motorcyclists in the whole of the country and, as in most forces, City of London has none. "If we have a lighter bike that actually looks smaller and does the same job, it must be an advantage," Ms Davison said.

Police chiefs are aware that women are seriously under-represented in specialist squads. Research produced by the University of Teesside last December suggested that such units were seen by many female officers as the last bastions of male chauvinism.

With the abolition of traditional height restrictions in the police, senior officers are anxious that the size of equipment does not prohibit smaller officers, male and female, from joining elite squads.

Proposals to introduce more women-friendly equipment come in response to concern over the problems faced by women officers who need to wear stab and bullet-resistant protective vests, which are shaped to fit men and are uncomfortable for female officers.

Ms Davison said the new availability of flexible protective materials had provided a possible solution for the body armour problem. She added that she was encouraged by how helpful chief constables were being towards the needs of women officers.

Women police are also unhappy with the design of belts on which they are expected to carry handcuffs, a baton, a radio, CS spray canister, document pouches and possibly a firearm, making them impractical for people with slim waists. Women would also like shorter riot shields.

Ms Davison, who sits on the equal opportunities committee of the Association of Chief Police Officers, said: "You have to run in your protective clothing and carrying a shield. Even if you are fit, if you are short in stature it is very hard to carry it above ground level."

Even the build of some police vehicles, particularly vans, means many women have difficulty in reaching the pedals.