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WOMEN POLICE OFFICERS: 100 years of service

Think Local

North Sydney Police Inspector Shari Allison has risen through the ranks of the NSW force over the past 26 years, smashing the glass ceiling with a multitude of other female officers in the state.

Entering the force in 1989, she admits she has been part of the quarter century of women in the police force and even in her time has seen changes and improvements in the role of women, how they are viewed, and their paths to promotion within a very much male-dominated profession.

'I went into the police force feeling like I could make a difference.’ lnsp Allison tells North Shore Living.

 Her sentiments are probably no different to the first female officers to be admitted to the force in NSW in 1915 - Lillian Armfield and Maude Rhodes They were chosen from 500 female applicants after a recruitment drive for just two women. Maude Rhodes resigned in 1920 and Lillian Armfield retired after a significant career and 33 years of service in1949.

Insp Allison, who is also helping to formulate a book on the achievements of women in policing over the past 100 years, says in the early days, women were not permitted to have firearms, did not wear uniforms and were probably relegated to areas like school lecturing and traffic duties.

"They would have had many skill sets that were simply not used, - they were stereotyped in the force and not in challenging roles," she comments.

It was not until 1946 that the NSW government permitted an increase in women police to36. Even in 1965, only 58 women of various ranks were sworn into the force as regular officers.

  “Since I joined In 1989, a lot has changed for women in NSW,’ says Insp Allison. "But even so. when I first joined the force, women were still scarce and you had to prove yourself three times as hard as male officers. You had to prove you could hold your own, even then.

"Although things had improved in the 1990s,there were still challenges. For example, the uniforms we had to wear were stockings and culottes and the type of work we did was more limited than today. The changes that took place for us were very much mirrored by the changes that were taking place in society,’ she says Speaking at North Sydney Police Station to North Shore Living along with colleagues Police Constable Natalie South, Cory Devega and Sergeant Cindy Larsson, Insp Allison is clearly enthusiastic about her role as second in charge and duty officer there.

“I think I really take on board the welfare of all staff.” She remarks. ‘People know I will do the job properly - l’m a doer and a fixer - I think it’s a female trait.’ she smiles.

It’s clear her female staff value her mentoring and enthusiasm. 

PC Smith, who joined the NSW Police Force in 2010, says she's always had an interest in law and order. She says the Goulburn Academy Police training was 'really hard but awesome', however coming for the first time to North Sydney as a new constable “that‘s when reality really hit - I felt like I didn't know anything", she laughs.

Unlike her predecessors, she admits that she has been treated equally by all staff - men and women alike. Her experience mirrors the experience of many younger women in the work force now.

Sgt Larsson joined the police force as a mature-aged applicant in 1994 and says she has never looked back. She is a senior officer at North Sydney and remembers her first job at Surry Hills Police Station.

It was there that she got her first experience at policing, with many challenging moments as an inexperienced officer. “But I was always looked after very well” she says.

Backing up the police force at North Sydney is administration officer Cory Devega who everyone agrees is "indispensible'.

Insp Allison says she tries to ensure that women in her command are mentored and encouraged to seek out new opportunities in development and training.

Today, female police officers comprise 35 per cent of the force - still not enough, according to many.

“The early women certainly did it tough and for many of them it was the hard, cold reality of their new positions. Women have many skills to bring into the workplace - I believe they just need to be proactive and build networks," Insp Allison says.


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