Sacramento Police Chief Kathy Lester worked her way up through the ranks of her department for 28 years before she became the first woman hired to lead the law enforcement agency in January.
Throughout that time, she said she felt like just “one of the guys.” She said she was mentored and supported along the way, working very hard to get where she is now and believing everyone should meet the same standards to succeed in her profession.
But she’s long realized it’s not the same for everyone, and you need to recognize that and address it if you truly want to diversify your police force.
“As you mature and you go through the course of your career and things change, you realize it’s OK to be different. It’s OK to be yourself,” Lester told The Sacramento Bee. “It’s OK to realize that you have unique challenges. I have daycare challenges. There’s a lot that fall on moms, for example, outside of work. And to pretend that doesn’t matter is really kind of unrealistic.”
That’s why Lester and the Sacramento Police Department are taking the 30×30 pledge, which she says is a series of low- and no-cost actions to increase the number of female sworn officers working in the department to 30% by 2030.
Currently, there are 698 sworn officers working for the Sacramento department and 121 of them are women. That’s about 17% of the department’s officers, Lester said. The department has 12 women in leadership roles — ranks of sergeant and above.
Lester called it a “lofty goal” for a lot of police departments to reach 30% across all ranks in eight years, but she says she’s confident it can be achieved by changing policies and practices. The pledge also means the department will work to identify factors that could be driving disparities, develop and implement strategies to eliminate barriers in recruitment, assessment, hiring, retention, promotion and agency culture.
“I was able to look to women that came before me and were able to do those things,” Lester said. “I try and set a good example and create that culture for women coming up kind of behind me, because we’re trying to grow future leaders for our organization.”
Nationwide effort to increase number of women in police
The pledge is part of a nationwide effort to increase the number of women in law enforcement.
The 30×30 Initiative is a coalition of law enforcement leaders, researchers, and professional organizations who have joined to advance the representation and experiences of women in policing. The initiative is affiliated with the Policing Project at New York University School of Law and the National Association of Women Law Enforcement Executives.
Maureen McGough, co-founder of the 30×30 Initiative, said she was grateful the Sacramento Police Department was committing to this growing movement.
“We believe strongly that advancing women in policing is critical to improving public safety outcomes,” McGough, a former U. S. Department of Justice policing expert, said in a news release. “We look forward to having more agencies follow the Sacramento Police Department’s lead by signing the pledge and improving the representation and experiences of women in policing.”
McGough’s group says nationwide research suggests female police officers used less force and less excessive force; are named in fewer complaints and lawsuits; have better outcomes for crime victims especially in sexual assault cases; and make fewer discretionary arrests, especially of non-white residents.
More than 140 law enforcement agencies nationwide have taken the 30×30 pledge, including the Los Angeles and New York forces. In taking the pledge, an agency agrees to report on its efforts to identify and address the obstacles female officers face in recruitment and throughout their careers.
Physical fitness tests
Some practices to support women on the force have already been adopted by the Sacramento department before making the pledge, such as uniforms made specifically for women to wear.
Lester said there’s also a state standard physical fitness test recruits are required to pass coming out of the academy. She said the test tends to be really difficult for people and extra challenging for women, because it requires a lot of upper body strength. The test was a good assessment of the recruit’s ability to do the job, but recruits had one chance to pass it or wait another year before they could take it again.
“So it was really nerve-wracking because you wanted to make sure that you passed that test or you just had to sit there for a year,” Lester said. “Now what we do is, not only do we allow people to practice it a number of times, we give people multiple opportunities to pass and improve. And we found that that really increases our ability to bring people into the door.”
And the department used to require officers to take that fitness test again annually for the first 30 years of their career, but that’s also changed.
“So it’s more of a wellness program now,” Lester said. “So we do have a physical component, but we really focus on wellness of the whole person; mental wellness, making sure that you do things like you’re stretching appropriately and that you’re maintaining a really healthy fitness routine throughout the course of your career. And it’s not just about this one test.”
She said the department also offers officers some incentives, including on-duty workout time for taking the fitness test.
Lester said her department has talked about creating a female fitness challenge and women’s mentorship programs, along with using the department’s pre-academy programs and pre-hiring programs to diversify its workforce. And the 30×30 initiative, she said, creates a very strategic pathway by taking a national perspective and offering her department other ideas they haven’t thought of or tried.
This initiative focuses on increasing the number of women police officers, but Lester said the effort is about increasing the diversity of the force by welcoming people of all backgrounds.
“What I see is that having a really diverse workforce where you have women, you have people from all walks of life, you just have a healthier workforce,” Lester said. “Because you have such a broad set of skills that you can draw from when trying to serve the community.”
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