The Vancouver Police Department has launched a provincewide recruitment drive to beef up the number of female police officers who serve on the force.

The police department has "come a long way" since it first hired a female police officer in 1912, but "we still aren't where we want to be," said Chief Const. Adam Palmer in a statement.

Right now, about 25 per cent of the department's roughly 1,200 police officers are women. It's a big increase since 1987 when just five per cent of officers were women.

But the force wants to see that figure grow. 

"Would we love to have our department be half women? Yeah, we would love it to be half women," said Vancouver Police Det.-Const. Andrea Dunn, who is part of the force's recruitment team.

"Is it realistic? I don't know. We need to search and find the best people for the job. Would it be perfect if it was 50-50? Absolutely."

Not just men's work

As part of the recruitment drive, officers will head to the B.C. Interior to reach out to would-be female recruits. They're targeting universities, colleges and sports teams. 

The outreach comes at a time when Canada's national police force, the RCMP, is dealing with the legal fallout of hundreds of sexual harassment complaints.

RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson, who announced he is retiring this week, has said sexual harassment is still an issue in the force.

Dunn said many women still have a misconception that police work is men's work. That's not the case, she said.

"Women are a strong part of policing," Dunn said. "They do things differently. They're compassionate — not to say men aren't — but they come from a whole different side.

"And the communications skills they bring to the table are very valuable."

Across Canada, the proportional representation of female officers ranged from a low of 8.4 per cent in Nunavut to a high of 24.7 per cent in Quebec, according to recent Statistics Canada figures.

In British Columbia, the figure is 21.9 per cent.

Lesley Bikos, a researcher at the University of Western Ontario, who has examined gender issues in Canadian police departments, said Canada has a better track record than the United States, where women make up 12 per cent of police officers.

But it's behind some European countries. Sweden's police forces are 29 per cent women, and in the U.K, it's 27 per cent.

Balance family life

Bikos, a PhD candidate on police culture, conducted interviews with about 75 officers at 23 police departments across Canada.

"In the ​U.S., Canada, the U.K, there is some evidence to show that things like workplace and family policies still aren't conducive with women's lives," she said.

"Essentially, the informal policies of policing have not caught up with women's rights in many ways and make it tough for women to balance family and on-duty life."

But Dunn disagreed. The 13-year Vancouver police veteran, who is also a mother, said the Vancouver force shows flexibility to parents.

The department is looking to fill about 80 front-line vacancies by the end of the year.