When you see a squad car parked on the side of the road, do you look inside at the officer as you drive past? Although women make up about 51 percent of the population, only about one in eight of those police officers sitting behind the wheel of a cruiser will be a woman.
I am one of those women.
I became an Illinois State Police trooper in March 1981. At that time, women had only just begun to be hired as police officers throughout the country. Before that, police departments typically used women as bailiffs, jail matrons or community service officers – positions without arrest powers.
Starting in the mid- to late-70s, law enforcement agencies began to see the advantages of hiring women as police officers. Women tend to excel at communications – both spoken and written. Women are generally comfortable expressing compassion and empathy to others; this is a great advantage when gently eliciting information from witnesses and victims.
Forty years ago, the critics said that women weren’t strong enough or tall enough and would end up getting hurt. They said that a woman wouldn’t be able to physically defend herself, and the male officers would have to spend time “rescuing” them. The critics couldn’t have been more wrong.
I graduated from Illinois State University with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, and I had an unlikely dream to become an Illinois state trooper. “Unlikely” because – at the time – there were few women in the state police. But I persisted. I successfully completed the hiring and background process and went to the state police academy in Springfield for 18 weeks.
For the next 27 years, I enjoyed a diverse and very interesting career with the Illinois State Police. I worked the road as a uniformed trooper for many years. About halfway through my career, I shifted gears and became a special agent for the ISP. I served in the Division of Internal Investigation for more than three years. I also had an assignment at the state police crime lab in Chicago.
I worked some very special details, including the state police traffic detail for then-vice presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro. I felt pride in being a very small part of this very big piece of United States history. The final five years of my career, I served as the district commander for Tollway District 15. I was the first woman commander there. Today, women regularly serve as police chiefs, sheriffs and high-ranking law enforcement executives throughout the country.
After I retired from the state police, I was honored to continue my law enforcement career as a deputy chief of police for Elgin Community College.
It is gratifying for me to serve the faculty, administrators, visitors and students – especially the students. It is our mission as a police department to keep the ECC campus as safe as we can. I enjoy speaking to the students and learning about their goals and hopes for the future. Perhaps, they can see that no dreams are “unlikely” anymore.
• Tami Haukedahl is deputy chief of police at Elgin Community College. The “ECC Extras” column runs occasionally in the Kane County Chronicle. Feedback can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.