NEENAH, Wis. (WFRV) The Neenah Police Department calls their law enforcement officers Neenah’s guardians, standing between peace and peril to keep their community safe. And nearly 20 percent of those front-line officers are women. Kris Schuller has part two of his extended interview with these officers who risk their lives policing the streets.
When it comes to policing, 87 percent of the state’s law enforcement workforce is male. But the Neenah Police Department is pushing to build a more gender-diverse workforce. But it’s a career filled with stress and lately controversy. Hear now from Neenah’s eight female officers, to learn what the past year has been like with the coronavirus and Black Lives Matter protests.
Question 1: Black Lives Matter protests over police brutality in Minneapolis. Has the anger that came out of that, is that still out there and has that been hard to deal with?
“I think there’s a little bit of mistrust out there,” said Lt. Kathy Voelker.
“It did affect our minority students and the school district reached out and they are trying to develop equity in the schools,” said School Resource Officer Vickie Strebel.
“I think it’s brought up a lot of different questions for people, they are curious about our job,” said Officer Ashley Burrows.
“We’ve received a lot of support from our community. We’re one of the lucky agencies and I think it’s from hard work with our department and what we have chosen to do with our community,” said Lt. Kathy Voelker.
Question 2: You’ve made an effort to be more transparent. Talk to me about the initiatives you have started?
“We’ve been holding chats with the chief, Facebook live, advocates have come to my office and spoke with me. Do you have body worn cameras? Yes we do. Do we have policies that are accredited? Yes. Are we accredited? Yes. Are we investigating our use of forces? We do. All these things that people are demanding police departments do, we’ve been doing for years,” said Police Chief Aaron Olson.
Question 3: Has Covid-19 impacted your time on the job, but also has it impacted your life back at home?
“Mental health has been a huge thing we’ve been trying to deal with with the citizens and trying to get them the proper help and treatment that they need,” said Officer Abby Hamlin.
“I have small children at home. Home schooling started and that pressure of trying to help your children through a pandemic and coming to work and dealing with it does add a lot of stress to the family,” said Lt. Amy Wagner.
Question 4: Have you ever felt disrespected or unappreciated while out in the field, especially over this past year?
“I think law enforcement in general feels disrespected. Again we’re lucky enough to be in a community where we haven’t seen as much of that as other agencies, but you always have that. If something comes up, it seems like we’re all held accountable for the actions of one person,” said Lt. Kathy Voelker. “I don’t want to be judged by other people’s actions just like I don’t judge other people by someone else’s actions either.”
Question 5: What would you say to a teenager or a young woman thinking about a career in policing?
“That is sometimes a hard question to answer, but the bottom line is we need you. We still need people to do this job. If you feel in your soul and your heart and your mind that you can do it, we need you,” said Officer Jessica Kramer.
“There are always misconceptions of what this job is and I think that’s the easiest way to see what this job is, to actually get out there and take a drive with us,” said Investigator Paige Collins.
Question 6: “You’re trying to make things happen here. Why are these officers so important to this department’s future?
“Data has shown that female officers have the ability to talk to people, to talk to people better, to de-escalate situations better. If that can help in just one call that’s a win for us as a police department, that’s a win for our community. We want to de-escalate every situation so that no one gets injured whether a citizen or one of our officers,” said Chief Olson.
A number of the officers recommend if you are curious about a career in law enforcement in Neenah, to explore the department’s Community Service Aide program. More information can be found on the city’s website.