Twenty-five years on the force: Women change the face of U Police

Sarah McKenzie

At 5 feet 2 inches and fresh out of college, University Police Officer Kim Turley doesn’t exactly look the part of traditional beat cop.
But Turley, 23, takes her job very seriously and said she has never been intimidated during her daily campus patrols. Turley has only been on the force for a few weeks and interned with University Police two summers ago.
As one of the new recruits, Turley is part of a transition taking place at the department. New, younger officers have altered the face of the department, taking the places of a number of recent retirees.
Officer Kris Tyra supervises Turley while on squad patrol, where she said Turley receives no special treatment. Likewise, the two said they rarely get flack for their gender when in uniform.
“It’s almost the year 2000,” said Tyra, a four-year veteran. “I doubt that would happen in this day and age.”
Turley holds her own and said every officer faces danger; it doesn’t matter if the officer is a man or a woman.
“If it is a gun call, it’s going to be high risk for anyone,” she said.
Progressive policing
The campus police department is often touted as one of the most progressive departments in the state. Officers say working in the University’s academic environment facilitates innovative and non-traditional approaches to policing. They said the community is generally more accepting of female officers.
Unlike many other police departments, the University has women in the two top posts. Chief Joy Rikala is one of a handful of female police chiefs in the entire state. Sgt. Jo Anne Benson, second in command, supervises investigations and reports directly to Rikala.
“The University of Minnesota Police Department has always been in the forefront,” said Juliann Brunzell, a special agent for the state’s Criminal Bureau of Apprehension. “Officers have always been able to step out and be noticed.”
Brunzell was the first female police officer to patrol the campus. In 1974, the University’s department followed Minnetonka Police as one of the first forces with women on the beat. Now, women comprise about 20 percent of the University’s force.
Rocky start
Brunzell said attitudes were very different 25 years ago, when female officers were a novelty on campus.
“I had no idea what I was getting into,” Brunzell said. “We were able to break the mold and prove we had enough strength for the job.”
Capt. Bruce Troupe, a University Police officer since 1969, said not all officers were excited when women joined the force in 1974. He said most men were respectful, but still had to overcome prejudices about women’s capabilities.
Benson said when she joined the force in 1981, the climate still wasn’t very supportive.
“The department had some pretty antiquated sergeants,” Benson said.
She recalled one day when a supervisor pulled her into his office and told her she should be home making babies instead of patrolling the streets.
In addition to the harassing comments, Benson and her female colleagues suspected that some supervisors gave higher performance ratings to the male officers.
“After a number of retirements, things started improving a lot,” Benson said. “We had thick skin and knew we would be OK.”
Numbers slowly on the rise
Police departments are starting to shed the image of the boys’ club, said Mylan Masson, president of the Minnesota Association of Women Police.
“It is slowly deteriorating,” Masson said. But she acknowledged barriers still exist for women.
“People will see me and say they want a real officer — not a woman,” Masson said. “I tell them my bullets hurt just as much as any man’s do.”
The number of women leading departments and entering the field is not very impressive. The University is unique in the number of women employed and working as supervisors.
According to the latest report issued by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, only 12 percent of the officers across the nation are female, a jump from two percent in 1972. Women hold only seven percent of the top command positions and eight percent of the supervisory posts.
Rikala is optimistic that women are earning more respect in the field. She is a founding member of the National Association of Women Law Enforcement Executives, an organization that has been instrumental in developing more opportunities for women police officers.
“Women are going to be taking the leadership positions in the next 25 years,” Rikala said.
But Brunzell said the numbers now are almost shameful. “The industry is still not reflective of the communities we serve,” she said.