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Women Leaders of Dallas Law Enforcement Discuss Roles in Male-Dominated Field

"It's great I'm a woman. It's great I'm a minority. I think that's a wonderful thing. But I'm the most qualified."

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    NEWSLETTERS

    For the first time in a major U.S. city, the top law enforcement agencies are led by women. Dallas Police Chief Renee Hall, Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez and District Attorney Faith Johnson all put Dallas in a unique spot in law enforcement history. (Published Friday, Sept. 15, 2017)

    For the first time in a major U.S. city, the top law enforcement agencies are led by women. Dallas Police Chief Renee Hall, Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez and District Attorney Faith Johnson all put Dallas in a unique spot in law enforcement history.

    The three women sat down for the first time to talk candidly about their struggles and how they are managing male-dominated fields.

    Nationwide, only 13 percent of all officers are female, while just one percent of police chiefs are female. Hall, who took the helm of the Dallas Police Department this month, is now part of that group and joins the sheriff and district attorney in leading Dallas' top law enforcement agencies.

    "I think it matters that I'm the most qualified in this job," Hall said. "It's great I'm a woman. It's great I'm a minority. I think that's a wonderful thing. But I'm the most qualified."

    Johnson was sworn into her position in January following an appointment by Gov. Greg Abbott.

    "We're not just three women in the top law enforcement positions," she said. "We are three qualified, committed, capable, tenacious women who are in these positions."

    They all know their field remains dominated by men, and they acknowledge the contributions of men to their field, but said they did experience hurdles along the way from their male counterparts.

    "The misogynistic things that we've experienced in our careers probably shaped and molded us into where we are right now," Hall said. "It's being able to rise above that and knowing that we're better than that."

    Valdez has been in her position the longest of the three women, first elected as sheriff in 2005. She hopes being the first to shatter the ceiling will help inspire others to move up.

    "When I first came in, I got a lot of, 'You broke the glass ceiling.' I got a lot of that," she said. "I would always respond with, 'Good, it's open now, come on up. Now that it's broken, come on up.' It's time for all of us to come up."

    Valdez and Johnson both agreed they experienced sexism along the way to the top of their departments.

    "I didn't fight trying to make my way up to the top," Johnson said. "What I did is I attempted to let my work speak for itself."

    Hall echoed that thought and said women had to work even harder to get in advanced positions.

    "I think that is the fight, because you have to be twice as smart, twice as talented as your counterpart in order to get there," Hall said. "There are people who hold positions — 'I have two master's degrees, and this person doesn't even have a degree, but they're a man and it's OK' — and no one questions."

    The women say they bring something unique to their leadership roles compared to men who lead in their profession.

    "I think women bring a different perspective, an additional perspective," Johnson said. "Although we're tough, and we're OK being tough, we love being tough, but we also love being compassionate."

    Hall said the compassion comes from a woman's tendency to be a nurturer.

    "We focus on the small things, because it's those little things that grow into those big things," Hall said.

    Hall is known for her nurturing nature and being one with the community. Prior to her move to Dallas, Hall was known in Detroit for showing up to community events and even giving out her cell phone number to citizens.

    When asked if that would change being in Dallas, Hall gave an example of how she's already begun reaching out to the community through little gestures.

    "I stopped, one of my officers was doing an accident investigation, and I stopped, asked if the individuals, were they OK, did they need anything?" Hall said. "If they wanted my number, I would've given it to them."

    The three women all say it is that nurturing, caring touch that Dallas needs with the events of the past two years in law enforcement.

    "Dallas has been through a lot two years in a row. The headquarters was fired upon initially and then we lost five officers the year after that," Hall said.

    The new police chief, just weeks on the job, said she remembered exactly where she was when she saw that five officers were shot and killed in Dallas.

    "I don't care where you are in the country, when your brothers and sisters in blue are under attack and hurt, it just — I'm about to tear up right now — it pierces your soul. So all I remember is saying, 'I wish I could be there to assist,'" she said.

    The women all say there is a delicate balance they take in leading departments that are majority-male.

    "I think it's easier for men to accept us when they know we're trying to do the best we can for all of them," Valdez said.

    "I'm a strong believer that if I go after a man in a large setting I may make all the men shut down. But make no mistake, wherever you buy a ticket, you'll get a show," Hall said. "It's not my show, it's our show. And I don't do that because I'm a female. I do that because it's the right thing to do."

    Johnson said she hopes she restores faith in the Dallas County judicial system.

    "I want to leave as a legacy for the people of Dallas County to take a deep breath and say, 'Ah, we finally got justice for everybody, and it really is blind,'" Johnson said.

    Hall said she doesn't want to only be known as the first female African-American police chief in Dallas, but she also does not want it forgotten.

    "I don't want to ride on that and make that the only thing I am," she said. "But I do want that. I am a Black History fact. And that's important for minorities everywhere, so to be the first African-American female in this position is important."

    All three women emphasized their connections with the community, and they hope to strengthen that relationship in a forum in Dallas on Saturday, Sept. 16. Johnson, Valdez and Hall will all be part of a panel addressing the relationship between law enforcement and the community from noon to 1p.m. at The Potters House at 6777 West Kiest Boulevard.