Number of Women Chiefs, Sheriffs Increasing


Margo Frasier says she’s ready for a new challenge and won’t run for reelection when her second four-year term as sheriff of Travis County, Texas, expires at the end of this year, Womens’ enews reports.

It remains to be seen how the county will honor Frasier, a 20-year veteran of the force and the first woman to head the sheriff's department. She is also is openly gay, with a domestic partner and an 11-year-old daughter. But perhaps the greatest tribute to the ground Frasier broke has already taken place far beyond the arid plains of Austin.

From San Francisco to Boston, Detroit to Milwaukee, mayors of large U.S. cities are for the first time appointing women to head their police departments.

The growth of women in large law enforcement agencies–defined as employing 100 or more sworn personnel–has been slow-moving over the past decade. Women accounted for just 12.7 percent of all such law enforcement officers in 2001, down from 14.3 percent in 1999 and 13 percent in 2000, according to a 2002 survey by the National Center for Women and Policing. What’s more, women held just 7.3 percent of all top command positions in 2001.

Corruption and allegations of police brutality, stale public safety initiatives and a recent spike in the number of violent crimes have led a handful of big-city mayors to shake up their police departments with historic appointments of women in leading roles.

On Feb. 19, Kathleen O’Toole was sworn in as police commissioner of Boston, while Heather Fong was named interim police chief of San Francisco in late January. For two of the most liberal-leaning cities in the nation, it is the first time either has had a woman leading its police department. Other recent police chief appointments include Ella M. Bully Cummings in Detroit, Mich., and Nan Hegerty in Milwaukee, Wis.

For their roles in an off-duty brawl and a subsequent cover-up, 10 officers from the San Francisco Police Department, including then-Chief Earl Sanders, were indicted last February. Most charges were dropped, but the veil of impropriety still weighed heavily atop the department. With the appointment of Fong, a 26-year veteran of the force, Mayor Gavin Newsom sought to instill a fresh set of sensibilities.

Changing public opinion, said Frasier, the soon-to-step down Texas sheriff, is a mandate placed upon every minority–be it gender or racial–who takes on a leadership position.

“I often tell my deputies, ‘It’s really not your job to teach these nincompoops to be more culturally sensitive,'” said Frasier, 50, who oversees a staff of 1,340. “‘But the world would be a better place for it if you did.’

“What’s the point of owning the boat,” she added, “if you can’t rock it?”


Comments are closed.


You have Free articles left this month.

Want access to all our reporting? Subscribe for unlimited access or login.