Commander Suwana Kirkland of the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office said she only had to watch law enforcement recruiting and cadet videos from across the country to understand why women aren’t flocking to her profession.
“It’s training staff yelling, screaming and degrading them,” she said. It’s not inviting, she added, especially for women looking for a new, more fulfilling profession offering opportunity for advancement.
That’s why Kirkland, a 14-year veteran, last year created the Women’s Academy, a weeklong women’s-only introduction to law enforcement hosted by the Sheriff’s Office that meets at the law enforcement center in St. Paul and the Arden Hills patrol station.
Led by mostly women officers, the academy offers free instruction to about 20 women on all aspects of the profession including patrol operations, investigations, defensive tactics, de-escalation, personal training and firearms use.
They also learn about stress management and how officers balance work and personal lives.
It’s challenging and rigorous without being macho and degrading, she said.
“It’s about how can we work together to change the narrative in law enforcement,” said Kirkland, who cobbled together donations, grants and training dollars to support the event.
In last year’s inaugural class, three women became community service officers, one became an emergency dispatcher and a handful became reserve deputies, she said.
Buoyed by its early success, other departments eager to diversify their ranks — including the Minneapolis police — are looking to emulate Kirkland’s academy. Departments across the state and country have committed to hiring more diverse officers, but some have struggled to do so.
In Minnesota, about 12 percent of the state’s 11,000 licensed peace officers are women, according to the Minnesota Board of Peace Officer Standards and Training. In Ramsey County, about 18 percent of 233 sheriff’s deputies are women, as are a quarter of the county’s correctional officers.
Ramsey County provides police services for seven suburbs, secures court facilities and operates the jail.
This year’s academy includes women in their 20s, 30s and 40s from a variety of professions and backgrounds, including college students and social workers.
Academy participant Alexis Love has worked in security for years. Years ago, she attended a law enforcement academy in Texas. “But I never took a cop job,” she said.
Love, 45. is now interested in pursuing a job connected to law enforcement, and for her the academy is a way to learn about different opportunities. It’s also a way for her to test herself and see if she feels up to the physical and emotional demands associated with a high-stress job in law enforcement.
“I see myself helping my community in this way,” Love said.
Academy graduates receive guidance from the Sheriff’s Office recruitment team in finding and applying for careers in law enforcement and public service.
The Women’s Academy doesn’t replace the training or education required to be a peace officer in Minnesota. It’s simply a means of introducing women to the ins and outs of the profession. Kirkland said she believes having more women officers will help law enforcement’s reputation as a whole.
“When women officers come on a scene, we have the ability to communicate clearly, calm it down and take things slow. But we can also turn it on when needed,” she said.