Women celebrate 100 years in the police force

A regular working day for Senior Constable Rosa Fali in the western suburbs of Sydney varies from street patrols, call outs to domestic disputes or the numerous other queries that make up an average working day.

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For Senior Constable Fali joining the police force has been the realisation of a life-long dream.

“I’ve always wanted to be a police officer, since I was a young girl. It was something that I’ve always wanted to do. A little bit clichéd, but I’ve always just wanted to help people.”

“We definitely need women to be part of the community and have a voice, not just men. So it’s good that we have women taking that role.”

But working as a female officer in multicultural area can be challenging, she said.

“Some cultural backgrounds aren’t used to having, or dealing with, female police officers, for whatever reasons. Maybe back where, their country of origin, they don’t have many female police officers.”

This year Senior Constable Rosa Fali is one of thousands of female police officers celebrating 100 years of women in policing.

More than one in four sworn police officers in New South Wales today are women, consistent with rates seen in other states.

At a recent police graduation ceremony in New South Wales just over one-third of the graduates were women.

It is a major jump from 1915, when New South Wales first recruited two women, followed by South Australia and other states.

Since then, a lot has changed. For one, women are not required to carry handbags and their outfits are now the same practical gear worn by men.

New South Wales Police are also trying to recruit more female officers from different cultural backgrounds, especially in areas with large migrant and refugee populations.

Superintendent Dave Eardley, commander of the Bankstown Local Area Police, said this was a priority for the police force.

“We’ve identified very quickly that, if we’re going to serve the community properly, our police force has to be made up of those same types of community members. And particularly the females, some cultures and religions also find it difficult for them to be overtly with the police. It may be frowned upon because of their cultural or religious beliefs. So there’s certainly been some challenges.

“There’s not many Pacific Islanders within the police force. I just think they’re not used to seeing a Samoan, or dealing with a Samoan, who is in uniform.”

Open days with young people in local communities form part of this process.

At an open day in Bankstown in Sydney a group of local female high school students expressed mixed views on a career in the police force.

“We definitely need women to be part of the community and have a voice, not just men. So it’s good that we have women taking that role.”

But this student conceded the job could be a tough and dangerous one.

“You put your life at risk when you’re a police officer. There’s always a risk of being attacked, or hurt or killed in some severe cases.”

Fluent in Samoan, Roza Fali said her background was both a help and, at times, a challenge when working with the Samoan community.

“There’s not many Pacific Islanders within the police force. I just think they’re not used to seeing a Samoan, or dealing with a Samoan, who is in uniform. More often than not, I turn up to jobs and they’re quite shocked that I’m Samoan, one, and a police officer, another.”

Superintendent Dave Eardley said problems in multicultural communities can sometimes arise because many migrants and refugees come from countries where police corruption is rife and female representation low.

But he added that the police force was making some progress in attracting police officers both male and female who better reflected the community.

“When you have a look around at the police we have here at the moment, they’re right across all religions. We have Muslim policewomen, all denominations across the board, but, critically important, if we’re actually going to deliver a service, and an effective caring service to our community, we need to have a police force that is made up exactly of that community. “