Are our female police officers being recognised? Camden Police deny sexism after figures reveal huge male bias for bravery awards

All men: The line-up of commendation winners in October, with borough commander BJ Harrington and Ma

All men: The line-up of commendation winners in October, with borough commander BJ Harrington and Mayor of Camden Lazzaro Pietragnoli. Picture: Polly Hancock - Credit: Archant

Police in Camden have rejected accusations of sexism after figures revealed female officers are far less likely to be recognised for bravery or excellent police work.

About 1-in-4 officers and PCSOs in Camden are women, yet fewer than 1-in-8 commendations for going above and beyond the call of duty have been handed to women since 2010.

The figures were obtained by the Ham&High under the Freedom of Information Act after no women collected awards at the latest commendation ceremony in October.

The events are held at Camden Town Hall once or twice a year to celebrate officers’ achievements.

Female officers in Camden said they were “surprised” by the news. Speaking anonymously, one wondered if men are more likely to pick up awards as they are “stereotypically known for making their achievements more visible”.

She added: “Although a man may be more likely to do a physical job – to jump over a fence to catch a burglar – bravery comes in many forms and sometimes those who go above and beyond with victims, both men and women, are taken for granted.

“Running into a burning building has far more ‘wow’ factor than spending a year getting a victim to court, maintaining trust and confidence through the most traumatic thing in their life. Things like that might not be commended when a single act of bravery will.”

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The fewest women were commended in 2010, receiving only 11 out of 145 awards – just 7.6 per cent. In 2012, 15.5 per cent went to women – the highest of any year but still significantly lower than the proportion of female staff.

That currently stands at 26.2 per cent and has remained at about a quarter for “a while”, police said.

Carolyn Williamson, secretary of the British Association for Women in Policing, said: “On the face of it this would appear to be discriminatory against women, but there will be many factors affecting the recognition.”

Cllr Jonathan Simpson, Camden Council’s cabinet member for community safety, said: “I certainly would hope they’d recognise people irrespective of their sex. It’s for the police to have a look at their system and maybe review how people are nominated.”

Commendations are approved by a panel of officers. Any officer can nominate a colleague.

Speaking for Camden Police, Ch Insp Penny Mills, who has three commendations, rejected any suggestion of sexism and said she has “never felt women receive less recognition”.

Commendations are awarded on merit and anyone can be nominated “from the typist to the borough commander”, she said.

She said some female officers “naturally gravitate” to roles which are less likely to receive recognition, such as schools officers, but insisted they are no less likely to perform acts of bravery when required.

“Men are not more likely to disarm a knifeman, it’s pot luck,” she said.

“We send the quickest unit and at every incident officers do what comes naturally whether men or women – and that’s to protect the public.”