By Mark McMurray- Huntsville Chief of Police
For more than a century, women have played an integral role in police departments. Whether on the street fighting crime or gathering vital information as call-takers and dispatchers, records or inventory, ITS and information management, crime analysts, crime scene technicians, women are assets to the law enforcement community.
Though often thought of as “men’s work,” many might not realize women female officers represent nearly 13% of sworn police officers nationally. And while that number might seem low to some, it does represent a modest growth. From 1987 to 2007, the percentage of female officers in local police departments rose from 7.6% in 1987 to nearly 12% in 2007.
In case you didn’t know, the first female officer is believed to have been Marie Owens, who joined the Chicago Police Department in 1891. Other early pioneers include Lola Baldwin, sworn in by Portland, Oregon, in 1908; Fanny Bixby, sworn into office in 1908 by Long Beach, California; and Alice Stebbins Wells, who became an officer for the Los Angeles Police Department in 1910.
The Huntsville Police Department believes a diverse department is one that is also effective, creative and resilient. According to a recent report by USA Today, women are less likely to use force, are named in fewer complaints and get better outcomes for some victims.
Huntsville Police has 43 women who serve as officers, and 6% serve as supervisors. Because they have high levels of interpersonal skills, they are valuable community partners.
HPD recruits from diverse backgrounds and fields, and because needs vary, recruits don’t always come from criminal justice programs. The department’s recent academy class includes a female officer who has a doctorate in microbiology. Public Information Officer Sgt. Rosalind White is a licensed attorney.
Director of Training Lt. Tesla Hughes ensures recruits have the knowledge and skills to become competent and professional police officers. She also oversees continual training of all officers. Sgt. Yuliya Zaremba supervises the Special Victims Unit.
Make no mistake – women are just as critical to a police department as men, and they prove it day in and day out with their dedication and resilience.
Winston Churchill once said, “Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak. Courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.” This quote embodies female police officers because they are courageous in their actions as well as observant and measured.
These attributes not only make women exceptional police officers, but invaluable members of any force. We are fortunate to have them among our ranks.