Dallas will soon be one of the first major cities to have a trio of women leading its top law enforcement agencies.
But all three hope that someday their gender won’t be news.
“This job is about skill. It’s about the ability to lead,” said Ulysha Renee Hall, Dallas’ future police chief. “I bring that. I don’t think it matters what gender I am.”
When she starts in September, Hall will be Dallas’ first female top cop. She joins Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez and Dallas County District Attorney Faith Johnson.
The sheriff knows what it’s like to be first. She was the first openly gay Latina sheriff in Texas when she was elected in 2004.
“Any time there is a first or a different, all eyes are on them,” Valdez said, “so the normal little mistakes that would normally be unnoticed will probably be noticed.”
But, Valdez pointed out, women are increasingly joining law enforcement.
When she started 40 years ago, “it was rare to see a woman out on patrol. … Now it’s not that uncommon anymore.”
The most important part is Johnson said she’s excited that the top three law enforcement officials, including her, are well-qualified.
“When you look at us three women, you’re looking at the fact you have three qualified, capable people,” Johnson said. “That’s what’s exciting. Not so much that we’re women but that we are capable people.”
Though female leaders in law enforcement aren’t unheard of, it’s less common for minority women to end up as police chief. Hall and Johnson are both black.
Hall has said there are benefits to having a woman as a leader.
“We kind of do it a little different, a little better, a little bit more nurturing by nature,” Hall said Wednesday after she was named Dallas’ next chief. “We add that special something to law enforcement that truly, truly calms that savage beast.”
The attitude in Dallas, where 80 percent of the police force is male, has generally been welcoming toward the new chief.
“I think they picked a very good candidate,” Dallas Police Association Michael Mata said after the announcement. “I think it’s great she happens to be a female.”
About a dozen women already hold high-ranking positions in the Dallas force as deputy chiefs and majors.
Even in smaller cities, more and more women are rising in the ranks.
When Susan Rockett was hired as the chief of public safety in Mexico, Mo., one of her interviewers asked whether the town was ready for a female chief.
That question was quickly countered by another resident who pointed to all the other women in charge in town.
“Most of us in our age bracket and our seniority everything we’ve ever done has been the first,” Rockett said.
She said she looks forward to a time when it’s no longer news to have a woman named as police chief. She has been chief for eight years and is the immediate past president of the National Association of Women Law Enforcement Executives.
She said she welcomes Hall to the ranks of female chiefs throughout the country and looks forward to the example she will set for women officers.
“This is her time to be the first,” Rockett said. “It’s that whole setting an example for those who come after you.”
Detroit Police Department
Those who monitor the status of women in law enforcement say Hall’s arrival in Dallas this September will send a powerful message.
“I’m not aware of any other cities that have these three top criminal justice law enforcement positions,” said Kathy Spillar, who co-founded the National Center for Women and Policing.
She said she hopes young women who are thinking of pursuing careers in law enforcement will see Hall’s position as a role to aspire to.
The center advocates adding more women to law enforcement’s ranks, citing research that shows female officers are viewed as more trustworthy because they appear more approachable than their male colleagues.
Statistics from the U.S. Department of Justice show only 2 percent of police officers in the 1970s were women, and most of them held clerical positions.
By 2013, the percentage of female officers had increased to 13 percent, the department said in a report.
“Many women encounter a ‘brass’ ceiling and are unable to rise to supervisory positions despite their qualifications,” the 2013 report said. “Many women do not even try to reach these positions because of fear of oppression from male coworkers.”
If a male fails in that position, he fails as an individual. If a woman fails in that position, it’s a reflection on all women.”
Many women still report harassment from those who don’t think they should hold those jobs, Spillar said.
Former Tampa Police Chief Jane Castor said Hall’s biggest challenges will be learning the responsibilities of a chief — even Castor was surprised by the burdens of the job when she made the jump — and learning a new department.
But Castor said being a woman comes with an extra challenge.
“If a male fails in that position, he fails as an individual. If a woman fails in that position, it’s a reflection on all women,” Castor said.
The Dallas district attorney said she’s ready for Hall to get to town so they can get to work.
“Our work will speak for itself,” Johnson said. “We have three people who can now represent Dallas County in such a way that the eyes of the world will see us and say, ‘Boy, they know how to do it down there in Dallas.’
“Not because we are women, but because we are people who are committed and dedicated to the work we have in front of us.”