Of the 94 U.S. marshal positions, three are filled by women. Overall, the Marshals Service's workforce is 25% female.

Of the 94 U.S. marshal positions, three are filled by women. Overall, the Marshals Service's workforce is 25% female. Bennie J. Davis III / U.S. Marshals Service

Not Many Federal Law Enforcement Officers Are Women. The Marshals Service Is Looking to Change That

The nation’s oldest federal law enforcement agency sees diversity as “mission essential,” said its director.

In July 2019, Anne Murphy became the first woman to lead the U.S. Marshals Service’s Northern Ohio Violent Fugitive Task Force, but her path there wasn’t easy. 

“There’s hurdles out there to get other law enforcement officers to trust you as a female,” Murphy told News 5 Cleveland. “The public is the same way. Sometimes they see you as someone that’s easy to talk to and sometimes they want nothing to do with talking to you.” 

The Marshals Service is looking to ease these and other challenges for its female officers with another first: In September, it became the first federal law enforcement agency (and the 200th overall) to sign onto the 30x30 Pledge, a nationwide initiative launched in March 2021 that seeks to increase the representation of women in recruitment classes for law enforcement—a field long dominated by men at all levels—to 30% by 2030. 

The 30x30 Pledge “is a public symbol of our commitment” to recruiting more women, Marshals Service Director Ronald Davis told Government Executive in a recent interview at his office in Arlington, Virginia. He seeks to ensure “we're creating an agency and an environment where we actually value that diversity, not to recruit you as a woman, and then turn you into a man.” 

Low Representation of Women

The U.S. Marshals Service provides security for federal courts, judges and other court personnel; apprehends criminals; transports prisoners; carries out court orders; seizes assets taken in illegal ways; and protects government witnesses and their families. It is the oldest federal law enforcement agency in the nation, established as the Office of the United States Marshals in 1789 when President George Washington signed the Judiciary Act and given its current name in 1969. 

While it has been home to trailblazing women, it has difficulty recruiting, retaining and promoting females—not unlike that of the other law enforcement bodies the 30x30 initiative was designed to address. 

Of the 94 U.S. marshal positions, which are presidentially appointed and Senate confirmed, three are filled by women. Overall, the agency’s workforce is 25% female, according to the most recently available online data from the Office of Personnel Management. This is down from 31% in 2002. As for the deputy marshals, just 10% are female, up from 8% in 2002. For criminal investigators, which are a subset of the deputy marshals, 9% are female, down from 12% in 2002. 

The decreases in female representation over the past two decades have not happened in a vacuum, as female representation in federal law enforcement overall has dropped and then remained stagnant over that time, Cathy Sanz, president of the Women in Federal Law Enforcement, told Government Executive over the summer. The numbers are “kind of dismal,” she said, attributing this to the volatility of hiring surges and freezes in the federal government as well as issues with recruitment. 

The Justice Department inspector general reported in June 2018 that it found “women in special agent and deputy U.S. Marshal (criminal investigator) positions consistently reported distinctly more negative perceptions of equity and experiences with differing treatment and discrimination than other staff in the four law enforcement components.” 

Furthermore, “these negative perceptions may be influenced by the low percentage of women in leadership and criminal investigator positions, promotion selections that reflect an underrepresentation of women, and the staff view that personnel decisions are based on personal relationships more than merit.”

The IG recommended that each law enforcement component it looked at (the Marshals Service; Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; Drug Enforcement Administration; and FBI) review their recruitment, hiring and retention efforts to find the barriers to gender equity; establish component-level recruiting, hiring, and retention practices to address gender equity barriers; track and analyze demographics of new staff; work to address women’s barriers to advancement in different job types; improve objectivity and transparency of the merit-based promotions process; and address the feelings of stigmatization and retaliation in the Equal Employment Opportunity complaint process. USMS leadership at the time agreed with all of the recommendations. 

The 30x30 Initiative

Female law enforcement officers bring many contributions, such as getting better outcomes for victims of sexual assault and other crimes, according to the 30x30 Pledge, co-run by the Policing Project at New York University and National Association of Women Law Enforcement Executives, in collaboration with other groups. They also are seen as trustworthy by diverse communities and use force less often than men, the group said.  

Davis––who started his law enforcement career in 1985 and was sworn in as Marshals Service director in September 2021––said there should be “equal and fair opportunity across the board” at his agency, in terms of promotions and lateral assignments. “The only thing that really should dictate your success, is what you're willing to put into it,” he said. The goal is to be free of “any barriers or obstacles, direct, indirect, real or perceived, that would prevent someone, especially women, from advancing in the agency.” 

To help carry out the 30x30 initiative, the department is in the process of hiring its first-ever chief diversity officer who will help with recruitment, retention and promotion, Davis said. 

Additionally, in its budget proposal for fiscal 2023, the agency suggested the creation of a National Recruitment and Strategic Outreach Branch to support its hiring and diversity efforts. (The government is currently operating under a continuing resolution as congressional negotiators have not come to a full year funding agreement yet.) 

“Agencies in the 30x30 network are supported to work on pledge activities over a two-year period,” said a fact-sheet from 30x30. “Activities range from data analysis and surveying personnel to assessing and adjusting hiring, promotion, retention processes, and culture. Agencies share progress and challenges with the 30x30 Initiative every six months—feedback that informs additional support for participating.” 

Mo McGough, chief of strategic initiatives of the Policing Project and a co-founder of 30x30, told Government Executive that officials with the project are feeling “optimistic” given all of the support the pledge is getting. Over 240 entities have signed on, including state and local agencies. 

Biden’s executive order issued this past spring on reforming policing really aligns with this initiative because it seeks to increase diversity of officers, McGough noted. The Marshals Service has set an example that could prompt other federal agencies to join the pledge, she said. 

So far, Customs and Border Protection has also signed on, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has made a verbal commitment. The group is in conversations with seven other federal agencies, McGough added. 

Additionally, the Homeland Security Department, which houses CBP, launched the “30x23” initiative in December 2021, which seeks to boost the representation of females among new hires for law enforcement positions to 30% by 2023, Kym Craven, executive director of the National Association of Women Law Enforcement Executives and director of the Public Safety Strategies Group LLC, told Government Executive.

Craven said “time is going to tell” exactly how 30x30 works with the Marshals Service, given the agency is in its nascent stages of implementation. Also, there are “different hiring processes and strategies when it comes to the federal government,” she said, adding she looks forward to sharing her organization’s research and best practices with others. 

Davis anticipates that the Marshals Service will collaborate with other federal entities as time goes on as well as with individuals at the 30x30 initiative, the Justice Department’s Office of Justice Programs, and the groups Women in Federal Law Enforcement and the National Association of Women Law Enforcement Executives. 

The initiative is one way to carry out President Biden’s executive order issued in June 2021 to increase diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility in the federal workforce, he said. 

“We also recognize, the same as the president does, that achieving diversity is beyond the issue of statistical parity,” Davis stated. “We see it here as mission essential” to tackling modern day challenges. “We need to have those diverse views, experiences and perspectives inside the agency because what comes with diverse views and perspectives, are more options ... and better decisions.” Additionally, “women don't think as a monolith,” so it will be important to recruit women with diverse backgrounds, he added. 

Recruiting the Next Generation 

Implementation of 30x30 will coincide with other changing dynamics within the agency’s workforce. 

Between now and 2030, the agency may end up hiring back at least half of its force or operational capability due to vacancies, large portions of the workforce nearing their mandatory retirement age and possible agency growth, according to Davis. There have been talks for years about an impending retirement wave in the federal government overall

“We're going to have some challenges, not just in recruiting women, but we also have challenges in recruiting a new generation,” Davis said. According to the most recently available data from the Office of Personnel Management, 13.6% of the Marshals Service’s workforce is 34 or under, and there is no one 24 or under. 

This new generation, Gen Z or possibly even young millennials, “has different expectations from the workforce and we, as federal law enforcement, better be prepared and be able to be responsive to that, if we're going to compete and have a workforce that can address the challenges that we know we're all facing today and tomorrow.”

The Marshals Services has also faced allegations of pervasive mismanagement and a “frat culture,” and decades of racial discrimination, as outlined in a class action lawsuit before the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

Nevertheless, there have been women breaking barriers at the agency not only recently, but in the early days. 

“Once you get to 30% that's not a finish line,” Davis said. “That is a milestone, which means you want to get to the point where there are enough women in law enforcement in policing and in this case, the U.S. Marshals Service, that it can actually change a culture that we can benefit from having women.”