The time when female police officers were relegated to the awesome tasks of radio dispatching and writing out parking tickets, and generally allowed to conduct none of the riskier business of law enforcement, has finally passed, although it took a long time in going. Now, the District's police department has named its first female deputy chief, Joyce Leland, to run the city's seventh police district. The department appears to have made a sound choice. Deputy Chief Leland, 43, is a District native who joined the police force in 1965, when female officers were most often assigned to work with troubled children. In 1978, she became the force's first female captain, in charge of a precinct on Capitol Hill. She now brings 20 years of experience to her new position, along with a degree in sociology and studies toward a master's degree in community psychology.

This promotion follows the selection of Capt. Helene Cassell as commander of Fairfax County's Twin Oaks police district in November. Capt. Cassell was also the first woman on the county's force to be placed in charge of a police district. Elsewhere, women still make up a very small percentage of the total number of sworn officers. Montgomery County, for example, has only two female sergeants, and women account for less than 10 percent of that county's police force.

In the District, Deputy Chief Leland will be watched closely as she takes over a district east of the Anacostia River, where some of the city's poorest residents live. Although the crime rate there has dropped, it is still an area that is stricken with drug trafficking and other crimes. We would hope that her performance is equal to the task, and a sign that the doors of authority should be opened to other qualified women officers as well.