Women in Law Enforcement Breakfast

Sarah Knieff | Staff Writer

The Lincoln Mall at Century was filled with inspiring women this past Oct.12.

The first ever Women in Law Enforcement Breakfast was held and the turnout was incredible. The event was put on as a way for women who are thinking of a career in law enforcement to hear more about it from a panel of experts as well as Century’s own law enforcement instructors.

Many of the experts were given the opportunity to speak out about exactly what it means to be a woman in law enforcement and even the sexism that they have encountered. The master of ceremonies gave information as well regarding the law enforcement program here at Century.

The breakfast was funded by the Perkins IV Act which according to the U.S. Department of Education states, ‘‘The purpose of this Act is to develop more fully the academic and career and technical skills of secondary education students and postsecondary education students who elect to enroll in career and technical education programs . . .” The 109th congress moved this congressional act along until it was signed into law by President George W. Bush on Aug. 12, 2006.

From right to left Chief Julie Swanson, Chief Laura Eastman, Sergeant Azzahya Williams, Sergeant Pam Barragan, Commander Sarah Halverson, and Chief Stephanie Revering
Photo Credit: Sarah Knieff

The panel of experts included: Chief Laura Eastman of the Bayport Police Department, Sergeant Azzahya Williams of the Minnesota State Patrol, Sergeant Pam Barragan of the St. Paul Police Department, Sarah Halverson Commander of the Washington County Sheriff’s Office, and Chief Stephanie Revering of the Crystal Police. The master of ceremonies was Chief Julie Swanson of the White Bear Lake Police Department.

The panel was asked a series of questions from Swanson allowing them to open up about hard hitting topics. When the panel was asked what different career paths are available in law enforcement, many of them spoke up.

Williams said that state troopers patrol highways and freeways. She went on to say that “our bread and butter is traffic and crashes, but we do so much more than that.” They have K9 narcotics and explosive detectors. They have their own version of a SWAT team which is a special response team. State troopers also do executive protection which is when they follow around the governor to protect him/her.

Barragan said, “St. Paul is kind of unique because it is such a large agency . . . you come in as an officer and work the streets for three years . . . and then there are a bunch of opportunities available.” One can go to the K9 unit, be a school research officer, go to different task forces such as areas in domestic violence within families, as well as areas in sextual violence. Barragan continued to say, “Whatever your passion is . . . if you get bored at this job, it is your own fault.”

Eastman found out that after working 10 years in corrections at the Stillwater prison, transporting prisoners for five years in corrections, then going through State Patrol being assigned their western district, that a smaller agency was for her. Eastman states, “If you are a small agency you get to do it all. So if you get called to a case, it’s yours. You are the officer that responds and you’re the investigating officer.”

The panel was then asked: what types of gender stereotyping did you observe or experience and what advice do you have for those interested? At this moment during the event, the crowd being made up of all women, leaned forward in their sits eager for the panel’s reply.

Revering was the first to speak, telling the group a story about when she was first promoted to a police officer. One of her male sergeants asked her to place a man under the influence in the back of the squad car all by herself, which isn’t the normal protocol for a situation like that. When she accomplished the task her sergeant said, “Well you passed, good job,” as though it was a test that only she needed to do. After her many years in law enforcement, Revering has learned that “men don’t like to take direction from women.”

Williams spoke next, opening up to the crowd on her experiences within this field. “The first two years on I felt like I had to prove myself and I felt like that clock started over every single day. I had a good day, I did my job, and they would look at me like ‘Okay she is good enough, we like her, she is one of the good women,’ but I knew that that clock started over every single day. If I made a mistake, I ran the risk of them saying ‘Hm I don’t know if she should be here.’”

“I feel as a woman I have to prove myself 100 times more than every guy standing next to me.”

Williams went on to say, “So I kept doing it again and again each day. At the same time I would always hear comments about the new women coming on, ‘She’s small I don’t know if she is going to be able to handle herself,’ or the guys would ask, ‘That new girl what do you think about her?’”

“So it was maybe three or four years on of hearing them make comments, ‘Is she good enough,’ and never about the men who would make mistakes, that I kind of had to say you know what there are always going to be men in this profession judging you and holding you to a higher standard then they hold themselves at times and I just have to let it go.”

“If I make a mistake at a call, I am human. If the man next to me makes a mistake, he’s human.”

Williams continued, “So essentially I realized that you can prove yourself time and time again, but some people will never see you as equal…you have to set your own path in law enforcement.”

She then gestured around the room and at her panel mates and said, “You can achieve any rank in this profession.”

Eastman continued the discussion by saying that during her experience at the Stillwater prison “they would assign you back in the 90’s to spots that they wouldn’t assign any male to, like in the kitchen.” Eastman then said “Hold your head up.”

Barragan told the crowd that in the St. Paul Police Department they have 615 sworn in officers and out of that just less than a 100 female officers, with a 6:1 ratio male to female.  Barragan went on to say that “it was a male profession to start with and we are still getting there, but we are. getting. there. There is strength in numbers.”

Giving advice Barragan said, “Believe in yourself and your own self-confidence, don’t compare yourself to anyone else. You are unique, you have your own unique set of skills and that’s what we have to focus on.” She continued to say, “Being mothers, being leaders in a community . . . we have those [people] skills inherently higher because we do have compassion, and we do care, and we do have loyalty.”

Eastman then said that police officers are “social workers with a gun.”

The Crowd
Photo Credit: Sarah Knieff

The panel lasted for only about an hour, but the impression the experts left lasted for much longer. For most of the women within the crowd, what the experts were saying registered with them and signified that this is what they wanted to do for a career here at Century College.

For those interested in this career field, Century is offering a new mentor program that allows students to pair up with a police officer from another agency and then that police officer will guide the student through their two years at century or even after if they pursue a career in this field down the road.

The Law Enforcement Program here is looking for students who are compassionate, empathetic, multi- taskers, courageous, responsible, assertive, trustworthy, collaborative, and problem solvers.

If interested in the Law Enforcement Program, contact Mary Vukelich at 651-779-3981 or mary.vukelich@century.edu for more information.