NEENAH, Wis. (WFRV) In law enforcement – it is a man’s world with males making up nearly 87 percent of the statewide law enforcement workforce. But in Neenah female officers are making headway. Kris Schuller sat down with them at the Neenah Police Department to meet these crime fighters, policing the streets.
Law enforcement is a dangerous job. But that hasn’t stopped the eight sworn female officers at Neenah PD from doing their duty, day in and day out. They make up roughly 20 percent of the department’s workforce and recently I sat down with them to talk about their chosen careers.
Question: What led you to become a police officer?
“My whole life I’ve always wanted to serve people, I always fought the bullies growing up,” said Lt. Kathy Voelker.
“My dad was a police officer, I have cousins that were police officers, an uncle that was a police officer and I always was just drawn to that,” said Officer Jessica Kramer.
Question: What is the thing you love most about coming to work each and every day?
“I’ll say this department is the best part of this job. We have a very, very good diverse group of people that we work with,” said Investigator Paige Collins.
“I like that every day is different. You never know what to expect, there is no script, there is no planning,” said Lt. Amy Wagner.
“With my position at the high school it really is wonderful. I can deal with the kids and build that rapport,” said School Resource Officer Vickie Strebel.
Question: What is the biggest misconception the public has about women in law enforcement?
“People don’t expect us to do the same things our male officers do, on bigger high-risk calls,” said Officer Ashley Burrows.
“Women generally tend to be talkers so we’re able to communicate with the public really well and sometimes that gives us an advantage over our male counterparts,” said Voelker.
“We do get that shock and awe factor when you have all females showing up on a call, because we’ve had multiple days when all that are working are females,” said Kramer.
Question: Women make up just 13 percent of law enforcement officers in Wisconsin according to the Department of Justice. Why do you think that is?
“We’ve had to make strides throughout history to make this more of an equally acceptable position for women to be in. Nationwide there’s only 11 percent of law enforcement that is female. So Wisconsin is actually ahead of the national average,” said Voelker.
Question: At Neenah PD the percentage is quite a bit higher at 19.5 percent. Based on the officers in this room chief it appears you’re really trying to make an impact when it comes to hiring women police officers.
“We want to be as diverse as we possibly can, whether it’s gender or race it doesn’t matter. We want the people who will treat our citizens with dignity and respect. As of late, if you look around the room, the best people we’ve been interviewing are mostly female officers,” said Neenah Police Chief Aaron Olson
Question: Why is it important to balance gender in your department?
“Everyone brings something good to the police department. We want to break those barriers where, when an all-female crew shows up on a call, it’s not shock and awe, that’s just females there, it should be accepted,” said Chief Olson.
Question: Do you consider yourselves role models within the community?
“When you run into, especially little girls and see the glimmer in their eye when they talk to you and how they look up to you, it makes you realize – I am a role model,” said Wagner.
“Part of being a good role model is being there for someone in their time of need. When it’s maybe the worst day of their life and we’re there to make a difference for them,” said Investigator Stephanie Gruss.
Question: How do you find these officers and more importantly how do you retain them – to try to up that percentage which is low nationwide?
“We treat each other really well and that’s how we keep people. People want to stay here. They don’t want to leave. They are our best recruiters for female officers. And how they treat people on calls. Whether it’s in the schools or an investigation, those young females look up to our officers, they aspire to be great role models like our female officers are. So, I think it’s because we have such a great female staff, that we attract more female officers,” said Chief Olson.
These female officers work as investigators, patrol officers, school resource officers and more, with law enforcement experience ranging between one year and twenty-five years.