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Abstract

This paper uses original data obtained from 10 California law enforcement agencies (police and sheriff’s departments), drawing from literature on social psychology, feminist IR theory, and police culture and militarization, to further understandings of the ‘cult of masculinity’ that has long been associated with policing. I begin by defining and adapting the concept of militarized masculinities, or the notion that masculinity can be acquired by becoming a soldier or in this case, a law enforcement officer. I argue that this concept can be readily applied to police departments as well as militaries. Due to historical gender norms in policing and society at large, the belief that the ideal police officer is male persists, despite female contributions to police-work throughout history. The militarized masculinities within police culture departments are a promising starting point to further understanding of why police-work remains a predominantly male enterprise in the U.S. (87 percent of sworn officers nationwide identify as male, compared to only 38 percent of civilian staff identifying as male). In addition, militarized masculinity may contribute to violent escalation in police encounters, and decreased public trust in law enforcement. Changing police culture to reduce militarized masculinity can help departments attract a greater number and diversity of applicants, build community support for and greater investment in public safety, and help reimagine policing as we know it into a more inclusive and effective endeavor.

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