Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

'Women in Blue' among Topics at 2017 Generation W Conference; Session to Explore Different Skills Females Bring to Law Enforcement

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

'Women in Blue' among Topics at 2017 Generation W Conference; Session to Explore Different Skills Females Bring to Law Enforcement

Article excerpt

Byline: Beth Reese Cravey

About 14 percent of law enforcers nationwide are women. Among them are Michelle Cook, the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office director of patrol and enforcement, and Annmarie Cardona, a North Miami Police Department major who is in charge of her agency's investigative section.

As trailblazers, they encountered bumps in the road.

"Early on, being a woman in law enforcement was very challenging. From officers who didn't want to work with women, to uniforms that didn't fit, this job was pretty tough in the beginning," said Cook, who began as a patrol officer in 1992 and now oversees 1,000 officers.

The key, Cardona said, was to focus on the skills and traits she as an individual and as a woman brought to the table, rather than try to adapt to the stereotypically male image.

"Stay true to who you are," she said. "It's a man's world. ... We still have a lot of work to do."

Cook and Cardona will be among the 35 speakers at the 2017 Generation W women's leadership conference March 31 in Jacksonville. Speakers will represent a wide range of fields, including business, science, health care, media, technology, nonprofits and human resources.

Cook and Cardona will join Alachua County Sheriff Sadie Darnell, her county's first female sheriff, and Vera Bumpers, the first female police chief for Houston's Metro transit law enforcement agency, as panelists for one of the conference's main sessions, "Women in Blue: The Changing Face of Law Enforcement."

The session stemmed from a similar discussion at the 2016 conference. The topic arose again last summer at the Times-Union's first Eve Women's Summit, where Generation W founder Donna Orender presented a report on the status of women.

The "scorecard," prepared by the Center for Community Initiatives at the University of North Florida, revealed, among other things, that women made up 12 percent of Jacksonville sheriff's officers and only 5 percent of leadership, from sergeants up. Those numbers and the only slightly higher national percentage prompted Orender to contine the discussion.

"Research tells us that women lead differently than men, and this is such an asset in law enforcement," Orender said. "Women de-escalate situations through communication, statistically receive fewer complaints than male counterparts and use less force than male officers. As cities work hard to build trust and unity, we should look to all of the assets we have to support those efforts to realize those results."

What the research found about women officers "was remarkable," said Audrey Moran, Baptist Health senior vice president for social responsibility and community advocacy, who spoke at the 2016 Generation W conference.

"We need to break out of the mold," she said.

The ongoing community discussion - and Sheriff Mike Williams' support of getting more women on the force - will bear fruit, she said.

"I hope to see lots of good things come from this," she said.

Cardona joined the North Miami Police in 1989. She watched some women leave as they met their goal of finding a husband. She watched some women leave as police work failed to meet their expectations. The women who stayed wanted to be there, wanted to do the job, she said.

Over time, she said, she earned the respect of her male colleagues.

"We have a lot to offer," she said. "They see, 'She's here to do the work.' You just have to change the mindset."

Cook said she was able to persevere with the help of mentors.

"I had some great mentors, both men and women, who were very supportive and afforded me some great opportunities," she said.

Neither Cook nor Cardona has any regrets, despite the challenges.

"Absolutely I would do this again," Cook said. …

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