FREE PRESS STAFF WRITER
When she was younger, Kriste Etue peppered her father with questions at the dinner table about his job as a Michigan State Police trooper.
He didn't expect his daughter to follow in his footsteps on the then-all-male force. And he probably didn't expect her to be the first woman in an agency of about 1,300 people to be promoted to lieutenant colonel -- one of three second-in-command positions.
"I'd like to be looked at not just as a woman that holds a high position, but a woman that's very qualified to lead this department," said the 50-year-old Farmington native. She was promoted in 2006.
About a dozen women lead the state's 600 or so law enforcement agencies compared with probably half that number a decade ago, said Tom Hendrickson, executive director of the Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police. He predicts at least another half-dozen women will ascend to department leadership roles in the next 10 years.
Etue is one of many women in metro Detroit and Michigan making gains in law enforcement. Those affiliated with the male-dominated profession predict the trend will continue, with women serving from sergeant to chief and bringing their accomplishments, style and experience to the table.
Today's female leaders range from pioneers, such as Auburn Hills Police Chief Doreen Olko, who has led her force nearly 12 years, to newcomers, such as Colleen Hopper, who last year became the first female Sterling Heights officer promoted to sergeant. Weeks later, Linda Deprez joined Hopper in receiving sergeant stripes.
"I know when I first came here, they were a little perplexed about what to expect," Olko, a 34-year veteran, said of her hiring as deputy chief in Auburn Hills. "City Council was courageous in naming me."
A 2001 survey by the National Center for Women & Policing, the most recent conducted, indicates that women account for about 13% of sworn law enforcement positions in large agencies and 8% in small and rural agencies. Most agencies are led by men, but women hold the top spot in some, including Orlando, San Francisco and Washington, D.C. Ella Bully-Cummings led Detroit police for nearly five years before retiring last year.
A different perspective
Research shows that female officers are better at defusing potentially violent confrontations; are less likely to be involved in problems with use of excessive force; often have better communication skills, and respond more effectively to incidents of violence against women, according to the national center.
Many in the profession said law enforcement should be reflective of the community and that women add a different perspective to the job. Olko said she believes female leaders bring a new management style that is more participatory and may bring more service-oriented aspects to the work.
"They are more egalitarian on how they view things. Fairness might be a bigger issue," said Olko, who chairs a committee establishing a radio system that connects police and fire agencies in Oakland County.
Under her leadership, her 56-officer department overhauled its use-of-force policies from vehicle pursuits to firearms, with the changes resulting in fewer injuries to officers and suspects. She said her agency, which has one female sergeant, also improved the percentage of crimes solved and established a crime prevention officer and an awards program to recognize officers and community members.
As a captain, Etue was commander of statewide emergency management and homeland security programs and oversaw their budgets. Col. Peter Munoz said her ability to run the division -- which requires being a consensus builder and comes with much responsibility, stress and attention to detail -- is why he chose her for lieutenant colonel. A school liaison K-12 program that focuses on drug abuse, crime prevention and anti-bullying was her brainchild, he said.
"She's tough when she needs to be and takes on difficult issues. She does it in a diplomatic way that does not alienate people. She multitasks and gets things done," Munoz said.
Those are traits Lansing Township Police Chief Kay Hoffman, who in 2006 became the first female president of the state police chiefs association, likes about a female patrol officer in her department who may be promoted this year. She said the way the officer investigated a recent physical and sexual assault involving a young woman led to a multi-count felony warrant with a $5-million bond for the suspect.
"She was able to investigate this with a lot of passion. She was very thorough and the family responded to her very well," Hoffman said of the officer.
A change from good old boys
Troy Police Chief Charles Craft, whose 135-member force has a female captain and two sergeants, said female commanders have "been good for the professionalism of our job" and take away "that good-old-boy thing."
He said his highest-ranking female officer, Capt. Colleen Mott, wasn't promoted because of her gender. She excelled in the promotional process, is intelligent, articulate, well-educated and "has a great sense of police work."
Mott said more responsibility, more interesting assignments and better pay were some reasons she sought promotions. The 23-year veteran also wants to be a role model and encourage women to advance in command positions.
Role models help
Bully-Cummings served as a role model for some female Detroit officers, said Sgt. Eren Stephens Bell, who aspires to be a lieutenant. She said women in her circle who previously didn't mention moving up the ranks took the promotional test after Bully-Cummings became chief.
For many, making the decision to seek promotion can be difficult. Time to study for tests or seek additional education, family, long hours and unfavorable shifts are a few reasons some choose to delay or not seek a promotion. And harassment and discrimination still exist.
But many women are making the move. Women such as Hopper and Deprez in Sterling Heights, where Chief Michael Reese said they can impart their knowledge -- particularly about youth issues -- to those they supervise.
"It's kind of my personality," Hopper said, "to do one better, to go up the ladder, to give guidance to the newer officers."