Sheriff’s office holds women’s academy, with aims of outreach and empowerment


Solomon Gustavo • Some 30-or-so women participated in the first-ever Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office women’s academy in Arden Hills as seen June 12. The free academy, which aimed to inform women about law enforcement careers and to empower them, ran June 11-15.

On day two of the inaugural Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office women’s academy, the 30 or so women in the program poured out of a conference room-turned-classroom and into the Arden Hills patrol station parking lot for a group picture. 

Near the end of a few rounds of pictures, former University of Minnesota women’s basketball coach Pam Borton, who’d just finished her presentation, “Cultivating the Leader from Within,” made a crack about how, at her age, she has a limited set of crouches in her at a time. 

Academy participants chuckled and could at least momentarily relate — some were feeling soreness after starting the day with a rigorous introduction to CrossFit. 

Sgt. Suwana Kirkland, who came up with the idea of the women’s academy and has more than a decade of law enforcement experience, was feeling the burn herself and joked about seeing aching participants gingerly get in and out of their seat. 

Some academy participants had law enforcement experience, and thus physical training experience, but some in the academy, which ran June 11-15, had no law enforcement experience whatsoever. 

For any participant with any background, said Kirkland, the academy is simply a resource that’s meant to inform women with law enforcement ambitions of their many options.

That range of options, she said, is surprisingly vast, rattling off non-patrol duties like dispatch, clerk and courts jobs, such as tracking child support claims. 

Participants included everyone, from those with zero experience or knowledge, to students looking for a specific specialty, to experienced agents in search of a different challenge. 

 

Women get the call, too

“People don’t choose law enforcement,” said Kirkland, “it chooses you.”

Her call to action came while she was exploring careers to provide for her children. She started going to school and ran into a boisterous group of people, who, unlike some students who trudged around campus, dragging themselves from course to course, were laughing and excitedly making their way. 

Kirkland asked for the source of their passion and learned they were police recruits jacked up from completing another day of physical drills. 

The energy of the recruits sparked Kirkland’s interest and soon, after further research, she was hooked. Her family was initially “not a fan” of her choice said Kirkland. But soon, her brothers began helping her with arresting drills. If Kirkland could take them down, she said, her brothers reckoned she’d be okay. 

After working for a few agencies, Kirkland said she’s found a home at the sheriff’s office, which she said accepted her for who she was the moment she arrived. Kirkland, with immense relief, said the agency allowed her to be herself, “allowed her to be a black woman.”

Kirkland, who said she is “a mother first,” cracked what Sheriff Jack Serier characterized as the mainly male and white world of law enforcement. 

In successfully breaking through that grey wall of gender-based barriers, Kirkland has let in a little sun. But she doesn’t stop now that she’s warm, using her position to shine a light on the lack of comfortable space for women in law enforcement.

In an email, the sheriff’s office’s public information officer, Becqi Sherman, said the goals of the academy are to remove barriers, misconceptions and obstacles that women might face when pursuing a law enforcement career. 

Serier, in an interview, said misconceptions can come from varying cultural perspectives on law enforcement and more general misnomers that limit what is proper work for a woman. He added that a primary barrier within the white-male-dominated law enforcement culture is a tone of toxic machismo that second-guesses if women can do the job or “pull their weight.”

 

Law enforcement and beyond

Other goals of the academy Sherman listed are to provide mentorship for women interested in law enforcement careers, open potential volunteer and employment opportunities at the RCSO, and to work towards Ramsey County-wide gender and racial equity in hiring. 

The academy curriculum, which Kirkland said emphasizes actual law enforcement training as much as information, has segments on empowerment and leadership, patrol operations, CrossFit and wellness, firearms, defense tactics, CPR, nutrition, and participation in community engagement and field work. 

“We’re given great insight into the department,” said academy participant Valeria Perez-Martinez, halfway through day two. Perez-Martinez is a student at Century College interning with the St. Paul Police. 

She said she has interest in joining a police force but also can see herself as a sheriff one day. After seeing deputies with flyers promoting the academy during a Cinco de Mayo parade, Perez-Martinez said she leaped at the opportunity to join and learn more. 

Devina Moore had ambitions of becoming a police officer but decided against it after having a child. Nevertheless, those ambitions continued to linger for Moore, who currently works for a school district. She said she was so excited to see a women’s academy video on Facebook that she invited other friends to participate just in case they too might have had a spurned or unspoken interest in law enforcement. 

Even before starting the academy, one of Kirkland’s roles at the sheriff’s office was head of recruitment. She said she very intentionally reached out to as many women as possible, with any kind of background. Her outreach to women, which is not traditional in the world of law enforcement, targeted non-traditional places like dollar stores or beauty supply shops.

In order to make the academy as accessible as possible, Kirkland said the week is entirely free, including breakfast, lunch, workout clothes and transportation. No one needed a ride, but it’s there if anyone does, she added.  

“This is bigger than law enforcement,” said Kirkland, adding the academy and her efforts are for making women feel empowered to work in law enforcement — or anywhere. 

 

– Solomon Gustavo can be reached at sgustavo@lillienews.com or 651-748-7815

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