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The resignation of Officer Karie Petit last week underscored an issue the Marco Island Police Department has encountered since it was formed: a gender gap.

Petit’s resignation meant there were no longer any female police officers out of the 37 positions in a department that has historically employed low numbers.

Police Chief Al Schettino said the department has only had a handful of female officers since it was formed and at its peak, employed two female officers at the same time.

“For some reason, we don't' get the numbers for female candidates,” Schettino said. “If I can get more females to apply, that’d be great but everyone in Collier County is having a hard time recruiting.”

Nationwide, women made up about 12 percent of full-time police officers in 2013, according to the most recent data available from the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Twenty years ago, that number was eight percent. 

Those numbers pale in comparison to other countries, which Schettino took notice when he toured police forces across the world.

Combined between England and Wales, 29 percent of the 123,142 police officers were women according to 2017 data from the House of Commons Library, the library information source for the British Parliament.

In Canada, women made up 21 percent of police officers in 2017 according to the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics.

Data from larger U.S. cities and police forces show they are more likely to employ more women as police officers than small departments.

Women in New York City’s police force, for example, made up more than 17 percent of its officers last year.

As a point of comparison, data provided the city of Naples shows six out of the 68, or 8.8 percent, sworn officers it employs are women.

Schettino said recruiting police officers, in general, has become a challenge due to several factors.

“Today's social perception of law enforcement gets a lot of negative attention,” Schettino said. “There a lot of factors it could be, maybe the pay and we do have extensive background checks.”

That, however, has not prevented the department from diversifying its officer poolin other areas.

The department’s latest officer hires included several minority candidates, which were due in some part to using recommendations from the 21st Century Policing Implementation Guidebook that was produced in 2015 by a task force commissioned by President Barack Obama.

While the guidebook encouraged hiring more minorities, it did not mention shrinking the gender gap in law enforcement.

Schettino said the department tries to recruit for “everybody,” because it can run into trouble for reverse discrimination if tries to target certain groups.

“We're doing everything we can to recruit,” Schettino said.

With Petit’s departure, not only did the department’s gender gap worsen but it lost a quality officer committed to community policing.

Petit was honored in 2015 by the Rotary Club of Marco Island Sunrise with the first award from the Kindness on Patrol Service program.

The KOPS program reimburses officers who personally pay for items or services to meet an immediate need of a resident. 

Petit bought groceries for a homeless person and along with Community Service Officer Charlene Greenblatt, helped the person find temporary housing.

“Unfortunately, we didn't want to see to her leave,” Schettino said. “She was a good officer and had no issues. We're happy to have had her work for us.”

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