Acting Deputy Secretary Canegallo delivered the following remarks at the DHS Women in Law Enforcement Summit in Arlington, TX on August 21, 2023.
There is, quote, a “growing realization in recent years that police work can be handled better by women than by men,” leading to the necessity of “sufficient employment of women in police departments across the country.”
This is an apt sentiment. It's one you all know very well.
It was equally apt when it was written, 90 years ago, in The Policewoman’s Handbook. It was a first-of-its-kind guide meant to help women support police departments to – and I’m not making this up, “effectively deal with burlesque performers, patrons, problem girls, and unchaperoned children.”
As is often the case when it comes to the long march towards progress, it is easy to feel like, 90 years later, not much has changed. The unique value that women can bring to law enforcement remains unquestionable, yet too often under appreciated. And problem girls, of course, are continuing to cause mayhem, as I'm sure some of the audience here know.
But all of that is why convenings like this are so important. They provide an opportunity to recruit, to grow, and to train our nation’s law enforcement in ways that will help departments and squads better reflect those that they serve.
And as your colleague at the largest law enforcement organization in the federal government, and as a citizen, I want to say thank you – thank you for your service, and thank you for being here today.
I'm so grateful. I'm grateful because of the recruitment and retention paradigm of women in law enforcement is an urgent homeland security issue. Indeed, the gender gap in policing is a bona fide public safety crisis. And at DHS, we are working to mitigate that.
Our 30 by 30 Initiative, which aims to increase the ranks of women in our law enforcement agencies to 30% by 2030 – and which Secretary Mayorkas in fact turbocharged to a 30 by 23 Initiative… Our most-recent Department-wide new law enforcement hires were 35 percent women, which is just a testament to the fact that there are great women that we can be bringing into our ranks. We are also guaranteeing paid parental leave and easing access to support resources like child and elder care. And that's in response to worries and feedback we heard from potential recruits about a law enforcement career making them choose between the job and their family.
And, as our presence at the WIFLE conference last week, and here in Texas this week, is a testament to, we are actively partnering with our federal counterparts at the Department of Justice, and law enforcement associations across the country, to open more doors, in more places, to more types of law enforcement careers for women.
And to be clear: I’m not here today as a one-off… This is one of my first trips in this new role, and I wanted to come here to this summit, to speak with all of you, to learn from all of you. As long as I'm in this job, my message to Washington and to women across the country who are interested in police work, be it frontline, financial, cyber, forensic psychology – it's we want you, and frankly, we need you…
But even as we’re trying to bring these outstanding women to our ranks, I recognize, too, that supporting and retaining you and your colleagues is just as important as recruiting new officers. That’s why we’ve reformed promotion policies and procedures to be more equitable, including for working moms. It’s why we’ve prioritized and expanded mental health and well-being support systems for law enforcement officers, including a free, confidential, and 24/7 DHS hotline for officers. It’s why we reinvigorated the DHS Women in Law Enforcement Mentoring Program.
And it’s why, as the Secretary likes to say, we are actually walking the talk. Earlier today you heard from our new Assistant Secretary for State and Local Law Enforcement, Chief Heather Fong, who is here, and some of our other outstanding leaders from across our components. And those of you who were at WIFLE last week heard from our extraordinary Director of the Secret Service, Kim Cheatle.
Representation matters. And at DHS, law enforcement is represented by women – all of you.
So more meaningful than any federal recruitment or retention effort is going to be the example that you set by serving every day.
And so, if I can, I’d like to ask something of each of you, in the days, months, and the years to come, and for those of you who are going to be speaking and interacting with some potential recruits in the hall tomorrow: tell your story.
Tell your story of serving in law enforcement.
Tell the story of the shipment of fentanyl you stopped, the people you led to safety during an active shooter threat, the human trafficker you put behind bars, the illegal guns you took off the streets.
Tell the story of the case-making clue that your forensic or fingerprint analysis uncovered.
Tell the story of the dangerous situation that you diffused by connecting with someone on a person-to-person level, not just an officer-to-civilian level.
I’ve been privileged throughout my time at DHS to hear and see these stories every day.
The women who showed me how they were putting away child pornographers at HSI’s Cyber Crime Center.
The Secret Service agents who walked me through their operations center telling me stories about safeguarding the lives of presidents and prime ministers.
And my colleague at headquarters, Carmen, who told me about watching grown men sob when she was a cop – not because she told them that they would be going to jail, but only when she told them that she would be taking and confiscating their boat, or their Lambo, or their diamond necklace, or that Rolex.
I took this position in part because I want to help share these stories, your stories.
Because when we do so, we inspire our communities, our friends, and our country.
Your story, each of you can help call more people, of all communities and backgrounds, to serve. Your story can remind us all of what’s truly important, show us what the best of America looks like, and, I hope, refill your own sense of pride in your work.
Together, we must, we can, and we will help our nation bridge the gap between the perception of law enforcement and the reality of law enforcement – a gap which has widened precipitously in recent years.
Together, we can build a future, a better future, by highlighting the value of public service; the inherent integrity of law enforcement professionals; the sacrifice our law enforcement officers make so that our communities and our nation can be safe; and the viability and reward of law enforcement as a career.
I am so grateful for the opportunity to help build towards this future alongside each of you. I am eager to hear your ideas, both today – I know there have been a number of panels and there will be some working groups and sessions later – and then going forward, about what we need to do differently to get to that future.
So, thank you all for all that you're doing each and every day to keep our nation safe and secure. And thank you for the opportunity to speak with you, and learn from you. Thank you.