Do the Dutch Know Much? A Comparative Analysis of Gender and Use of Force in Law Enforcement in the Netherlands and the United States

– Executive Summary

This comparative research examines approaches to gender diversity and the use of force in policing in the United States and the Netherlands. It specifically analyzes the historical evolution of women officers in each country and the potential correlation to use of force trends. The study was conducted through an extensive review of scholarly sources, government data, and historical accounts.

The research discovers women remain substantially underrepresented in American law enforcement, constituting only 13 percent of officers.[1] Discriminatory hiring practices, lack of advancement opportunities, sexual harassment, and the hypermasculine culture of police departments impede progress toward gender equity. However, statistical and scholarly evidence consistently demonstrates women officers are significantly less likely to use excessive force or generate misconduct complaints. Gender-balanced police forces empirically improve community relations, minimize unnecessary force, and increase public trust.

In contrast, the Netherlands achieves more than 30 percent female officers through proactive recruiting and quotas, along with extensive education standards within its unified national police system.[2] Consequently, the Netherlands exhibits dramatically lower rates of police violence compared to the United States. The Dutch emphasis on de-escalation training fosters restraint in the use of force. But excessive force issues still occasionally emerge, showing recruiting more women alone is likely insufficient to fully transform policing.

Analysis of high-profile police violence incidents in both countries reveals they are overwhelmingly perpetrated by male officers. However, the role of gender remains underexamined in the discourse on policing reform. Research is limited on how identity development and socialization influence force decisions. More funding is needed for rigorous psychological and social science research on the intersections of gender, identity, and policing behaviors.

The study suggests elements of the Dutch model could incrementally improve diversity, accountability, and safety if adopted in the United States. Recommendations include implementing national use-of-force data collection for transparency, increasing training focused on de-escalation over physical prowess, utilizing financial incentives to encourage education, and establishing centralized coordination of standards across decentralized agencies.

However, applying Dutch best practices in the United States faces cultural challenges related to attitudes on federal oversight and individualism versus collective well-being. While the Dutch emphasis on social harmony facilitates unified reforms, deeply-rooted American ideals of liberty and local control breed resistance to national mandates. Creative localized adaptation and incentives may help overcome this resistance.

Ultimately, the research affirms gender inequality persists in American law enforcement and must be addressed through multifaceted policy changes to recruit, retain, and promote more women officers. But transforming policing requires going beyond diversity alone to holistically reform training, culture, accountability, and community relations as well. The Dutch model provides an example of how extensive education, restrained force, and inclusive coordination can strengthen public safety and trust. Although obstacles exist, courageous, nuanced reforms centered on gender equity, de-escalation, and unification are imperative for just, effective policing.


[1] Rianna Starheim et al., Women in Policing: Breaking Barriers and Blazing a Path (Washington, DC: Department of Justice, 2019), https://www.ojp.gov/pdffiles1/nij/252963.pdf.

[2] “Female Police Officers (As % of Total),” HelgiLibrary, June 1, 2016, https://www.helgilibrary.com/indicators/female-police-officers-as-of-total.

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