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Mama Cops

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I'M GOING TO GO AHEAD and argue that being a cop is the most macho job in the world, after maybe American Gladiator and competitive cheeseburger eater, which are not real jobs.

Which is why it's great that the Portland Police Bureau is rewriting its policies to help out officers who happen to have boobs.

It's not often that there's nice and tender news to report about the bureau, but after months of working with female officers and the Nursing Mothers Counsel of Oregon, last week the bureau finalized a progressive new breastfeeding policy.

It's exactly the kind of small, flexible policy change the bureau needs if officers are going to better reflect the demographics of the city they police. For now, the bureau is about 16 percent female—of the 33 officers the bureau hired in 2011, only three were women.

Under state and federal law, breastfeeding women are allowed to take as many (unpaid) breaks as they need to pump breast milk for their wee babies. But without a written policy encouraging ladies to take breaks from intense jobs, it can be hard for women to speak up and insist on their rights. Especially if exercising their rights means stranding a partner on patrol. And having to publicly discuss, you know, exactly how their boobs are doing.

"What deters women from entering into non-office jobs? When they think about working and having a family, they think, 'How would that work?'" says Marion Rice, program manager at the Nursing Mothers Counsel of Oregon. "If the bureau wants to attract female officers and keep them, they need to spell this out."

Under the bureau's new policies, breastfeeding cops are allowed three paid breaks a day to pump breast milk. Plus, the police are required to provide a private place—a room at a precinct, not a public bathroom—to do the pumping. The policy also allows nursing mothers a two-week "transition" period when they get back from maternity leave, wherein they can take a desk job rather than having to jump straight into patrol. The other big change in the rules concerns the heavy bulletproof vests officers are required to wear. The vests are usually worn so tightly that officers complain they can cut off breast milk flow and cause infection. Now, nursing officers will have the option to instead wear a looser, external ballistic vest (though they have to buy 'em with their own money).

How these changes will actually work out in the cop shop remains to be seen. Returning back to a room at a precinct station every few hours could be a hassle for ladies out on patrol—Rice is hoping the bureau can work with neighborhood businesses to create a list of places where it would be okay for officers to stop in regularly and use a bathroom to pump milk.

Public transit agency TriMet might actually provide some guidance on this. Most people have probably never given a thought to where bus drivers can stop to use the bathroom on shift, much less take a break to pump breast milk. But at the request of a nursing bus driver, TriMet is installing a private "portable lactation station" on one of her route's stops—it's basically a locked porta-potty with a nice rug and chair instead of a toilet.

It's not a palace but, hey, in making traditionally male-dominated jobs more open to us boob-havers, it's the small details that lead to big change.

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