police officer body camera

Women Empowered-Women’s History Month Spotlight

In honor of Women’s History Month, The Utility Team chose three outstanding Law Enforcement Officers to spotlight their experiences as Women in the Law Enforcement Community: Chief Jill Lees (IUPD), Deputy Chief Catherine Cummings (IMPD), and Officer Marisol Douglass of Frankfort PD.

Question 1:

Describe your experience being a woman in the Law Enforcement Industry and explain why you decided to join.

Chief Jill Lees:

“There’s a long story there! When I was in high school I really didn’t know what I wanted to do. I was in athletics and a teacher recognized in me that I would enjoy the state police career camp and learn about Law Enforcement. When I went to that camp it was like the light bulb went off! This is what I want to do and I knew it was a male-dominated field at that time but at that camp, there were female Law Enforcement counselors so I felt really comfortable. If they can do it, I can do it, right? The biggest appeal to me is actually helping the community and that is why I’ve been in this job for almost 28 years.”

Deputy Chief Catherine Cummings:

“The way that I really got started in Law Enforcement was I wanted a challenging job that would excite me every day and expose me to everything we have in our world and in our country and also give me the opportunity to help everyone else out along the way and that’s how I ended up here.”

Photo Credit: Kindel Media from Pexels

Officer Marisol Douglass:

“I would have never imagined myself in these shoes seven years before today. My experience has been nothing but amazing. Every day I come to work I love it. I always told myself that the day I come to work and I just feel like it’s just not fun anymore I will put the badge away and be done with this because this profession deserves someone the can give everything they can possibly give to the community.I’ve had a tremendous amount of opportunities and different experiences that I would have never imagined being placed in however it comes with the job and I wouldn’texpect anything less!”

Question 2:

In your opinion, what value do women uniquely provide in the Law Enforcement Industry?

Chief Jill Lees:

We are really good in that community engagement aspect of the job. I was a DARE officer and was that school resource officer in the classroom with kids. Women are usually good at those kinds of roles. I think we are really good communicators and skills to talk to individuals in crisis and act as public information officers. Women tend to bethorough and make good writers to writing police reports and probable causes. We play a great variety of roles.

Deputy Chief Catherine Cummings:

I think women as a whole contribute to society more than we’re given credit for. We’ve had different experiences in the world and the community and that shapes and forms how we view things as officers and how we ultimately carry out our work as police officers within the community. We’ve had to do things and say things and plan for things and operate in ways as we’ve grown up in school and in the community that men have not necessarily had to. It gives us a rich perspective from which to pull.I think that women are very capable communicators. I think that one of the most important things we do every single day as Law Enforcement officers regardless of our assignment is communicate with people.”

Photo Credit: Kindel Media from Pexels

Officer Marisol Douglass:

“A woman brings that maternal image to whatever situation you’re gonna approach whether it’s speaking to the victim of a crime and perhaps they may feel a little bit more comfortable speaking with a female officer.Overall, you can use that as well within the department. I believe I’ve gotten really close with the guys that I work with. It’s amazing that they treated me and still treat me like a sister and you know sometimes if I see incidents and it’s critical, I’m not afraid to go out of my way and ask any of my own guys how they’re doing and maybe try to check on them and that’s again bringing that maternal viewpoint from a female officer.”

Question 3:

What challenges have you faced in your role as a woman in Law Enforcement? How have you overcome these challenges?

Chief Jill Lees:

We all have challenges. Law enforcement is challenging in nature. I use to struggle with physical fitness. A lot of times through obstacles comeopportunities. We all have different struggles and we all have to make our journey our own path. We really need to band together and reach out to each other to help each other get in which direction we want to head. It’s so important that we all work together as one team.

Deputy Chief Catherine Cummings:

“My challenges have evolved and changed as my roles and ranks have evolved and changed throughout my career. I think that when I came on, I was concerned that I was going to have to establish myself and prove myself.So I thought that as I got here and I was proven and I establishedmyself, things would start to settle down a little bit and maybe I would need to do that less but oh I was naive. I think that as you grow and as you change especially as a woman and as you grow and evolve and go up the ranks expectations change.”

Photo Credit: Kindel Media from Pexels

“Going back to what I said earlier, women are more passionate, empathetic, and more comfortable being vulnerable. Vulnerability doesn’t equate to weakness. It equals authenticity. And so showing people that you can still be strong and capable leaders with compassion and empathy and vulnerability and authenticity, those do not negate the strength that we believe a leader needs so that’s probably one of the biggest challenges I’ve faced as I’ve gone up is balancing the traditional thought of leadership with my skill set and quite frankly the skill set of women for being leaders.”

Officer Marisol Douglass:

“I take it a little personal that there is a stigma that runs in Law Enforcement that you’re supposed to show that strength and bravery that you’d typically see in the older days from a male aspect from a male persona. That was definitely a challenge but it wasn’t overwhelming though. You hope these gentlemen that you work with trust youcompletely as a female officer and are comfortable with you as their backup. That’s definitely been one of the biggest challenges that I feel like I’ve encountered. I think one of the ways to overcome it is by giving more training and having those conversations with fellow officers.”

Question 4:

As of 2018, women-owned firms made up only 19.9% of all firms that employed people in the USA. What strategies should be implemented to increase the number of women-owned businesses, and/or increase the number of outstanding women in executive-level roles?

Chief Jill Lees:

“It’s so important to share your story as an agency that’s inclusive of women because we are now shifting from a warrior mentality to a guardian mentality which may be more appealing to women. Being more inclusive and mindful of the needs that women might have in this profession candefiantly attract more women. With the initiatives that NAWLEE (The National Association of Women Law Enforcement Executives) has rolled out in conjunction with the 30 by 30 initiative of trying to get more women recruited by 2030 and having those policies in place around that so women feel more comfortable working at a Law Enforcement Agency.”

Deputy Chief Catherine Cummings:

“I do think a lot of it goes back to socialization. You have to see it to believe it to become it and we don’t have a lot of largerepresentation across the country for women in leadership roles. I think one of the first most visible steps just has to be promoting women and showing them people doing the job. It’s an intimidating job to start and if you didn’t grow up with family members in Law Enforcement or have exposure to Law Enforcement outside of TV and movies you don’t know what to expect. Make sure they are welcome here. Make sure they absolutely have a place in this job, that they can do this job and that they are needed in this job.”

Photo Credit: inhausecreatives from Getty Images Signature

Officer Marisol Douglass:

“If you put an image of a female officer you’re gonna have the younger population intrigued. One of the things you don’t think about is actually putting ourselves out there within the community and I think comes back to it being very difficult being a female within Law Enforcement. Having your own responsibilities and feeling that guilt of perhaps you are missing out on your own family. I think that it’s important that the strategy be “just put yourself out there”.

Question 5:

Talk about a female mentor in your career. How did they impact where you are today?

Chief Jill Lees:

“I’ve had several. Back in 1989 when I was at the State Police Career camp I met a state trooper who was a counselor there. She became my mentor and we kept in touch for over 30 years. Having a mentor is so important not just in the bad times but in the good times. When I was at IUPD as a cadet officer one of my mentors was Laurie Flint and she isactually the Chief that I replaced at IUPD. Talking to other people can really lift us up and help us get that motivation we need to help us get to the next level. That’s why I feel my main responsibility as Chief here is to mentor all officers we have on staff but really those women cadet officers and I can give them a sense of hope that they can accomplish the same things I have done in my career.”

Photo Credit: cascoly

Deputy Chief Catherine Cummings:

“In the beginning, I didn’t. I think that’s detrimental.There is a great benefit in having mentors who are women. They can help navigate the challenges unique to being a woman. I do now have a female mentor and she and I work together on the agency. I’ve learned a lot from her. I was fortunate to have this high-ranking woman in the department who saw my abilities and has been there ever since.”

Officer Marisol Douglass:

“I really did not. We don’t have female officers around here. The biggest thing that helped me jump into this profession was just the atmosphere of helping and realizing that there’s so much out there that if there was a female officer perhaps they could do a little bit more. I would honestly say my mentors weren’t even females but my fellow officers within the county jail pushed me and believed in me. I wish I did have one since they would have potentially eased some of the emotions and doubts I had about doing the best job I could but I decided to be the trendsetter and change the community a bit.”

Question 6:

What advice would you give to women who are new in careers?

Chief Jill Lees:

“Be prepared. Preparation is key to anysuccess. Know that you need to work as a unit and as a team. You are only as strong as your weakest link so lift others up and help those that might be struggling. Be a leader and be that person that steps up and gets outside your comfort zone. Have confidence in yourself, your abilities, and what you can achieve. Every day is a new day and every day is a chance to reset and start fresh again.”

Photo Credit: Mortorttion from Getty Images Signature

Deputy Chief Catherine Cummings:

“It’s important to remain true to yourself. You are competent, you are capable and you can do this job just the same as the man standing next to you. It’s ok to have ambition, goals, and want to be a leader as a woman. And then it’s ok to still be a woman and whatever that means for your personality. Speak up, show up, volunteer, raise your hand. You are going to be told no but that’s ok. Don’t be afraid to take that risk. You don’t have to change who you are to be good at your job and be accepted. Go for those goals.”

Officer Marisol Douglass:

“Never give up, no matter what the situation is. Always look at the pros and cons of the situation, but try to focus give yourself positive feedback. At the end of the day, we are human. I feel like we like to criticize ourselves, you know we’re our number one critic so just be your number one cheerleader and that’s honestly, the best thing I can ever tell you.”

Question 7:

What role do men and/or government play in improving the representation and experiences of women in business?

Chief Jill Lees:

“Creating those family-friendly policies that are attractive to women. Allowing women to have a seat at the table whendecisions are being made about women. Looking at becoming members of NAWLEE and sending women to women’s leadership institutes and being able to help women in their quest to rise the ranks within the organization.”

Deputy Chief Catherine Cummings:

“It’s clear from the data this is still a male-dominated role. It is important that the men in leadership roles and the men in the agencies do their part to be an ally. An ally is someone who will stand up against his cohort to say “she is qualified” “she is capable”. An ally is someone who hearsmicroaggressions and corrects them. We need the men in the agencies to be allies to speak up when we are not around. Mentor and encourage women. Make the change in the culture to be more inclusive and to invite more women to the table.”

Officer Marisol Douglass:

“They really do play a vital role and I’ve seen it hands-on. There have been instances they had called me out when people felt better with a female officer. It shows that you are part of the team. They feel comfortable calling on me whether it’s the littlest things or a language barrier or not. Supporting each other is the number one thing.”

Video Sources:
Chief Jill Lees-Women Empowered- Women’s History Month Spotlight (Part One)
Deputy Chief Catherine Cummings-Women Empowered- Women’s History Month Spotlight (Part Three)
Officer Marisol Douglass-Women Empowered- Women’s History Month Spotlight (Part Four)

Other Sources:
https://www.census.gov/library/stories/2021/03/women-business-ownership-in-america-on-rise.html

FBINAA Partner Webinar:Critical features your agency needs when selecting an effective DEMS