By Will Grant
In the world of all things tactical, women are an increasing presence. There are more women today in law enforcement positions than ever before. More women are taking concealed carry classes, more women are at the shooting range and more women are becoming part what’s traditionally been thought of as a male-dominated industry.
And while women are getting newfound recognition, there have been organizations and associations catering to tactical women for nearly a century. The International Association of Women Police was founded in 1915. The Los Angeles Women’s Police Officers and Associates organization was founded in 1925. The now-disbanded Women’s Peace Officers Association of California was founded in 1928.
But in the last ten years or so, there’s been significant increase in recognizing that a woman—even in uniform—is not just one of the guys. The National Association of Women Law Enforcement Executives, which was established in1994 to aid women in leadership roles within agencies, keeps close tabs on the presence of women in the industry.
“We have about 500 members,” says Rosanne Manghisi, executive director of the NAWLEE. “Our numbers have increased [in the last ten years], and there’s been an increase in women’s law enforcements organizations.”
In fact, the increasing role of women in military, law enforcement and security industries has been underway for several years now and is perhaps most easily seen in the recognition that women need different gear to fulfill the same roles as those played by men.
In 2008, 5.11 Tactical released a women’s line of apparel and gear. Later to come was Blackhawk!, which began offering women’s apparel only last year. Even the military has recognized the influx of women to the front lines and is now developing and testing body armor specifically tailored to women.
Probably the biggest new blip on the radar of tactical women is the Women’s Tactical Association, founded by Karen Bartuch in 2009. Bartuch, who served on the Chicago Police Department for ten years before taking leave of absence to focus on the WTA, is a ready-made poster girl for the rise of women in the industry. And you’ve probably seen her before—she’s the fit blond woman in many of the photos in the 5.11 Tactical catalog.
“I used to go around begging people to change their equipment,” she says. “Now I feel like we’ve definitely made strides forward, especially in the mindset.”
The WTA has about 1,500 members, most of which are in the Midwest, about half of which are women, and some of which are from other countries. Originally, the organization was limited to active law enforcement members but was later opened up to civilians. Its mantra: firearms, fitness, tactics and combat mindset.
“I’m not an advocate of all-women classes,” she says. “Even by some of our women members, we’re perceived as too hard core. And we don’t want that.”
Bartuch founded the WTA on the heels of an unsettling experience that reflects what she believes many women in similar roles endure.
While on the Chicago Police Department she responded to an active shooter call. From a tactical perspective, she found herself inadequately prepared. She didn’t have the training to effectively handle the situation. After that, she moved for a change.
“I founded the Women’s Tactical Association not because I wanted more women to train with,” she says, “but because I knew there were other women out there who felt the same way I did.”
In her eyes, and to WTA members, the organization provides a service. Today, that service is training and networking. Promoting and encouraging training for women police.
But the WTA’s mission is not pink pistol grips or smaller handguns.
“The answer is not to shrink it and pink it,” she says. “I hate that. My hands are as big as my husband’s.”
But a big part of encouraging women in the tactical industries is, obviously, promoting gear that’s better suited to women. Which means body armor that fits differently, guns like the Glock 19 that feature smaller frames, and duty belts that “don’t ride up to where my bra is,” Bartuch says.
In that regard, companies like 5.11 Tactical and Blackhawk have already arrived, as have many of the firearms manufacturers. And at the end of the day, it makes sense—they’re built differently than men, and they need gear that fits. In fact, at SHOT Show 2013, you can count on seeing more attention paid to tactical women from almost every angle.
Top photo courtesy of Women’s Tactical Association
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