In the United States, thousands of women police officers serve their communities every day, and most do an exemplary job. Yet women remain a minority of sworn officers, averaging about 12 percent of of sworn officers across the United States. And when it comes to SWAT teams—elite special weapons and tactics units—women are almost completely excluded.

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One important reason for the exclusion of women from police forces and special units is physical ability tests. Candidates for many police departments and almost all SWAT teams have to take a test that measures their strength, speed, and endurance. Timed runs, wall climbs, push-ups, sit-ups, and obstacle courses are common elements of these tests. By emphasizing muscular strength, especially upper-body strength, these tests eliminate many women candidates.

Often, these tests don’t measure the real skills used by police, or they overemphasize a few job skills while ignoring many others. Keeping women out of jobs that they are willing and able to perform is unfair to women officers and the communities they serve. That’s why, under the law, if a physical test disqualifies women at a higher rate than men, a department has to prove that the tested skills are necessary for the job. If it can’t, the test is illegal. Even if it can, the test may still be unlawful if it has not been properly validated by experts, if the cutoff score disqualifies women who could have done the job, or if there is a better test out there that could select qualified officers without putting women at a disadvantage.

Many physical ability tests now being used keep women out of police departments and SWAT teams unlawfully. They continue to be used simply because they have not yet been challenged. Eliminating discriminatory tests is an important way to allow more women to begin or advance in a policing career.

Additional Resources

Physical Ability Tests for Police Departments and SWAT Teams: Know Your Rights in the Workplace – This guide can help you figure out if your police department’s physical ability test unlawfully discriminates against women.

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