Police want more women on beat

New Zealand Police are on a drive to recruit more female police officers. They want to better reflect the communities they serve, but are struggling to increase the number of women on the beat to achieve it.

But why are women reluctant to put on the blue uniform?

Constable Erin Collins says for her, policing is a job for life.

"I love the excitement and having something different every five minutes and not knowing what the day's going to bring you," she says.

But there aren't enough women who feel the same about a police career.

In 2010, they made up 17 percent of the constabulary - six years later they're still just 19 percent of the force.

And in past year, the number of female officers dropped by one.

It doesn't appeal to women: only a third of the applicants to Police College each year are female.

"We'd love to have more women in the door, absolutely. It's the barriers before they join police we need to break down," says NZ Police deputy chief executive: People Kaye Ryan.

The police believe there's a perception problem.

"Understandably it's a commonly held view in the community that you have to be incredibly tall and incredibly strong to be in police, but we are looking for other attributes," Ms Ryan says.

Attributes like empathy and engagement with the community. The Police's latest recruitment campaign targeted women and gained critical acclaim and worldwide attention but failed to boost female recruitment numbers.

Criminology lecturer Dr Jan Jordan believes the reluctance goes deeper than the 6-foot stereotype.

"It still has that legacy and that sense of it being a boys club, that now may be a boys club in transition but nevertheless it still puts a lot of women off I think because they don't feel that they are going to be accepted within that environment," she says.

There are still very few women in high-ranking roles. There has never been a female commissioner, or a sworn deputy commissioner.

"Women have to be exceptional to do a job that has been defined for so long as requiring so many male attributes and characteristics," Ms Jordan says.

"They must be exceptional and so I think that can be a disincentive."

In 2008, Ms Jordan co-authored a report for the police about barriers to recruiting a diverse police force.

It found the male dominated culture within police often lead to women feeling they had to be twice as good to get half the recognition.

Police say they've worked hard to change the culture within their ranks and the current Police Commissioner Mike Bush says he's committed to a 50 percent ratio of men and women and to developing more female leaders - but it will take time.