10 Tips for Women Entering the Law Enforcement Profession

Chief Shannon Trump, of the Indiana University Health Department of Public Safety, shares her career story and provides tips for women entering law enforcement.

Wayne Parham Headshot Headshot

Chief Shannon Trump, of the Indiana University Health Department of Public Safety, is shown with Lt. Teresa McCollom, left, and Deputy Chief Allie Clements, right.Chief Shannon Trump, of the Indiana University Health Department of Public Safety, is shown with Lt. Teresa McCollom, left, and Deputy Chief Allie Clements, right.Shannon Trump

Police departments across the country, plus a good many state and federal agencies, are increasingly taking new steps to recruit more women officers. For those women, there are others who have paved the way and can share guidance on what they have learned from their experiences.

Among those is Shannon Trump, the National Association of Women Law Enforcement Executives (NAWLEE) past president and a veteran of the Indiana law enforcement community. After serving more than 20 years with the Noblesville Police Department, until recently as deputy chief, she accepted her first chief’s job.

Trump is chief and director of one of the Indiana University Health Department of Public Safety regions. She says Indiana University Health Department of Public Safety, the fourth largest police force in Indiana, is structured similar to a state police force. There is a superintendent in charge of multiple regional chiefs. Trump is the central region chief and charged with policing IU Health Methodist Hospital and IU Health Riley Hospital for Children, two large healthcare operations in downtown Indianapolis. Her department, the portion assigned to her region, is authorized for 115 sworn officers and has a dedicated dispatch center.

“After 21 years of municipal policing, it's just a unique, different challenge. I think it was about 10 or 11 years ago, Indiana authorized police departments within their hospitals. Currently, we're working on a statute to expand jurisdiction for hospital police, similar to campus police.  Where campus police were 20 or 25 years ago, is where hospital policing is now,” she explains.

Her path, from patrol officer to chief, started in college, more specifically when she entered a police cadet program her sophomore year at Indiana University in Bloomington. Within that program, cadets perform unarmed security duties for a year and then attend Indiana Law Enforcement Academy in the summer. After completing the academy, cadets can serve as certified officers working part time with the Indiana University Police Department.

“It was a cool program, I got fully certified as an Indiana law enforcement officer in college, and then I worked as a part time officer,” she explains.

She completed the police academy in 2000 and was working as a part-time officer when the towers of the World Trade center were attacked Sept. 11, 2001. That solidified her desire to be a law enforcement officer.

“I didn't grow up thinking I wanted to be an officer my whole life. I didn't have law enforcement family members or anything like that, but I kind of happened into that cadet program. And then with the towers coming down, and I was an officer at the time and responding to that call on the campus, I just knew what I wanted to do for the rest of forever,” Trump says.

She worked with the college department for nearly two years and then signed on with the Noblesville Police Department, located in the suburbs of Indianapolis, in January 2001. She remained there for nearly 21 years and along the way served in nearly any conceivable role, eventually rising to deputy chief.

Trump started in patrol, like most other officers, then progressed up through the ranks. Along the way she became a field training supervisor, a hostage negotiator, and also served in a variety of other roles including special teams assignments. When she was promoted to lieutenant, Trump moved into administrative support services, where she was in charge of school resource officers and a variety of other responsibilities.

 As a lieutenant, she learned of NAWLEE and joined. She also attended the Federal Bureau of Investigation National Academy (FBINA) as part of Session 254. She celebrated her 35th birthday while at FBINA and shortly after her return to Noblesville was promoted to deputy chief of the criminal investigations division.

The chief then asked her to set up a professional standards division, a first for the department.

“So, I spent my last two-and-a-half, almost three years building that division and making it what I wanted – hiring, internal promotions, CALEA accreditation, legal services, internal affairs – all that fun stuff,” she says.

Early Challenges

Trump says that when she joined the Noblesville Police Department in 2002, she was not the only female officer.

“There were a couple of female officers on the agency in Noblesville, but I found out much later that they had to go through a lot to get to where they were in certain positions. But the perception at the time from the other officers was they only got a promotion because they were female. It wasn't that they were normally accepted as officers and respected,” she says.

“I felt less of a supportive environment and more of a find-a-route-for-yourself environment. I certainly felt that, coming into my agency as I climbed the ranks. I was the first to do a lot of things,” she says. “I think you'll probably hear a lot of female chiefs say, ‘I don't want to be the first anymore,’” she says. “I don't want to be the first one that goes to the FBI National Academy, I don't want to be the first one that becomes a supervisor or becomes an FTO, but I was first in Noblesville for a lot of things. That comes with a whole different kind of pressure, being that first.”

She also recalls other challenges for women in a profession mostly staffed by men.

“Because you are still such a minority in the profession, people are looking at you, and they notice you. Whereas your male counterpart looks like 50% of the agency, if another officer has a bad interaction with a person, they're not as likely to remember that officer. But way back in the day when I was working the road in Noblesville, I was one of the only and at times the only female working the road. So if I went to a call and I made somebody mad, you can bet they'd remember next week, next year, three years later, because I was the only female that was working,” Trump adds. “Your male counterparts don't battle that as much.”

Recruiting Women

Times are changing and departments across the country are signing the 30x30 Pledge, which benchmarks the goal of police recruit classes reaching 30% women by 2030. Another part of the pledge is to ensure police policies and culture intentionally support the success of qualified women officers throughout their careers.

NAWLEE has had a stake in the initiative from the beginning since it co-founded 30x30 in partnership with the Policing Project at New York University School of Law. The 30×30 Initiative, which is run by the NYU School of Law Policing Project, is based on the importance of achieving at least 30% representation to empower a group to influence an organization’s culture.

“A lot of the statistics and studies show that female officers use less force than their male counterparts, they're perceived as being more honest and compassionate, make fewer discretionary arrests, and are named in fewer complaints and lawsuits. So, those are your strengths as a female,” says Trump. “Just be yourself, realizing that what you bring as a female officer is going to make the profession that much better and well rounded.”

Her former department in Noblesville had taken the 30x30 Pledge but her current agency, which she recently joined, has not yet done so; however, Trump says, “we have a good number of female officers and we're a little bit more diverse, I think because of where we are and then the type of policing it is.”

“The first thing it does as a chief, as an executive, when you sign that pledge is tell your officers, your current officers and then ones that you want to recruit, you are making a concerted effort to hire female officers and to diversify your agency. So right off the bat, I think that matters,” Trump says.

Drawing on her decades of experience and after serving in many roles while climbing the ranks from patrol to chief, Trump has some tips for women entering the law enforcement profession. Those are:

1. Develop Your Command Presence

Be your best self at all times. First impressions mean everything to the community, coworkers, and other leaders. Be confident and prepared at all times. Step forward in the crowd and be prepared to lead.

2. Volunteer for Training and Opportunities

Don’t let anyone else be in charge of your destiny. If opportunities don’t present themselves, go find them. The more you learn and the more you involve yourself outside of your main assignment, the better you will become. Look beyond what your department offers by researching local community colleges and chamber of commerce/business associations to see what they offer. Volunteering for something within the agency, a local non-profit, or a police association will help you broaden your horizons.

3. Find a Mentor

Developing yourself will open doors. If your agency doesn’t offer a mentoring program or one that fits your needs, seek out a program like the ones offered by NAWLEE to find a mentor.

4. Know Your Strengths and Use Them

Research shows women are more empathetic, are better at problem solving, use force less and use less excessive force, and are perceived by community members as trustworthy and honest. Don’t stand back, be proud of what you bring to the workforce and take command when your skills are needed. Both the agency and community will benefit from your skill set.

5. Find a Healthy Work/Life Balance

Don’t miss opportunities at work to excel, but also don’t miss valuable time with your family and friends. We only have one opportunity in this life, and we need work to live, but shouldn’t live to work.

6. Make Time for You

You are worth it. It’s about making sure you are your best self. You are not any good to anyone if you don’t take care of yourself. Establish a “you time” on your calendar. Commit to that time, whether it be monthly or quarterly, as much as you commit to your job and family responsibilities. Women are generally great caregivers, except when it comes to providing for themselves. Personal wellness is key to a long, successful career.

7. Pick Your Battles

There will be things in law enforcement, maybe at your agency in general, in your squad or division, or even with your partner, that you believe need changing. Try to make the small changes you can, chip away at the larger ones, or just know that there are some things that won’t change right now. Nothing changes overnight, so don’t focus on just the big changes, celebrate the wins that you can make and don’t miss the forest for the trees.

8. Support Other Female Officers

If they need help, help, but do so quietly. Don’t perpetuate rumors or repeat mistakes of other women. There are already so many barriers to get through. Be the woman that straightens another woman’s crown without looking for anything in return. Celebrate the successes of other women.

9. Embrace Your Differences

Be sure to embrace your differences that you bring to the field. This profession doesn’t need sheep. It doesn’t help the profession if we’re all the same. Know what you bring, do it well. Be proud of yourself and who you are. Don’t try to or force yourself to fit into a mold.

10. Remember Reputation Is Everything

All eyes will be on you. Celebrate your strengths, own your mistakes, remember the power of your actions and words. Be humble, be kind, be true. Most of all, enjoy your career because it is the noblest of professions.

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