BY TONY BOUZA
By 1975 women were entering police ranks in great numbers. They’d been piling up at the gates for years and then the dam broke. I am very proud of my role as an expert in demolishing the barriers.
The Southern Poverty Law Center sued to eliminate the obstacles, largely artificial and intended to keep women out. I served as their expert witness and we won every case. The revolution was one of feminism’s greatest successes, but it remains unheralded, unremarked and unacknowledged.
I was in charge of the Bronx (pretty arrogant construction) and had about 100 police women. It was the age of the miniskirt.
Michael Codd was the commissioner, and my boss. “Old school” would scarcely describe him. “Fossilized” might approach. Very Irish. Very Catholic. Very limited educationally and intellectually, but he masked it effectively behind a tall, imposing ramrod straight mien. The image he invoked in my febrile imagination was of a Wooden Titan. I did not fear him, but always observed the obeisances.
One day a delegation of women cops came to see me to ask if they could wear pants.
Codd was a stickler for protocol and a slave to traditional ways.
The women said that every time they emerged from a squad the corner hang-outs whooped and hollered in their version of I got beaver.
The request seemed eminently reasonable, and I sent a memo recommending its adoption to the police commissioner.
After a couple of weeks, I inquired as to the status of my request.
“It’s been sent to the Uniform Committee for evaluation.”
No pharaoh, entombed in a large pyramid’s interior crypt, was ever more securely buried than any idea sent to the Uniform Committee. It was a place to which ideas were sent to die.
The ladies asked for an update and my conscience was pricked.
What to do?
I thought the status quo was intolerable, but I was afraid to affront the P. C. By then my sins were many.
After several days of internal agony, I swallowed hard and told my staff to telephone (nothing in writing) each of the 11 precincts and tell them that henceforth pants or miniskirts were optional.
A remarkable transformation—overnight.
When Bronx police women (we’d abandoned the title in 1973 for “police officer”—an androgynous term) traversed to other boroughs they sparked a scandal.
Trousers? How come? Just the Bronx? What’s the authority?
In a wink all the females in the NYPD were in trousers. The corner louts were defeated.
And the P. C.?
I cowered cravenly in anticipation. I thought I knew Codd and felt he’d swallow my mutiny if I didn’t make a thing about it—and I certainly didn’t.
It worked. Not a single word was ever said—not even by the women who’d sought my intervention. A quiet revolution—the best kind.
As time passed, I reflected on what I alone thought was a signal event. One real regret emerged.
In the telephone message I had transmitted I had carefully parsed the language, but I neglected—I discovered later—to include the option of pants or miniskirts for everyone, even male cops. The imagery really captivated me.
Today, half a century later, all is buried and forgotten, including Codd and, soon enough, me. But for one unheralded moment the women of the Bronx blazed the trail now plodded by millions.
An essential postscript—the next year, 1976, I supervised the policing of the Muhammad Ali—Ken Norton heavyweight championship in Yankee Stadium. The cops rioted (no contract in three years) and I was accused of mishandling it. Codd forced me to leave the NYPD. So, ultimately, he got to pay me back.