Alice Stebbins Wells (1873-1957) was the first official female police officer in America. According to Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) Assistant Chief Sandy Jo MacArthur in a 2010 interview for Police Magazine, "When Alice came on she had full police powers but not a gun. Talk about blazing a trail, but not being given the tools. Nor did she have partners. She was out there on her own blazing through uncharted territory."
As part of standard issue Wells was given a telephone call box key, a book of rules, a first-aid book, and a policeman's badge but it was a general badge with the next sequential number. A perk of being on the police force was being able to ride public transportation for free. When a trolley conductor accused her of using her husband’s badge and not being an actual police officer herself, Los Angeles created the very first police woman badge. Alice Stebbins Wells has Policewoman’s Badge Number One.
The LAPD had not planned on giving her a uniform and her first official photographs are in street clothes. Knowing that a uniform would help her to be taken seriously, she designed and sewed the very first policewoman’s uniform consisting of a tailored jacket over a long skirt. (A replica is on display at the LAPD museum.) People weren’t sure what to call her at first. Titles like “first woman policeman”, “officeress”, or “officerette” were used until it finally became “policewoman”. (Currently the gender neutral “police officer” is used for everyone.) She was paid less than her male peers. The “Los Angeles Herald” newspaper reported, “Her salary is not as large as a policeman for she will receive but $75 a month, while a policeman receives $102. But she will have to conform to the regulations of the department just like any other member of the force.”
Her duties were quite general to start but she soon saw the need to adapt some police services to better serve women in the community so that they would feel more comfortable approaching the police. Wells helped found a bureau for women who needed help, a missing person’s bureau for women and children, and with the help of female parole officer Minnie Barton, created a safe home for women who had just recently been released from jail and later an alternative half-way house to reform young offenders instead of sending them to prison. The “Minnie Barton” home eventually became part of the Children’s Institute for Los Angeles.