Image caption: CUPD Chief Doreen Jokerst is joined by a group of women CUPD police officers on the terrace of the Center for Academic Success and Engagement (CASE) building. Pictured left to right are Officer Jennifer Aycock; Sergeant Mary Vekasy; Officer Dorie Schram; Chief Jokerst; Commander Paula Balafas; Officer Cassandra Yuma; Officer Sara Fraser; and Officer Michelle Leo (CU photo by Glenn Asakawa)
Editor’s note: This story is the second in a series about the CU Police Department’s ongoing efforts to increase transparency, accountability and trust with the campus community. Read the first article here.
University of Colorado Boulder Police Chief Doreen Jokerst has worked in nearly every capacity as a police officer over the past two decades––investigations, professional conduct, crime scene management and patrolling––working her way through the ranks in her field.
And yet, when Jokerst and her husband, a homicide detective for a Denver-area police department, stroll through conference exhibition halls in civilian clothing, vendors inevitably bypass her and attempt to pitch products and services to her husband. When that happens, her husband nods toward his wife and says matter-of-factly, “You should ask her––she’s the chief.”
Interactions like this might seem inconsequential, but assumptions about what a law enforcement officer does or doesn’t look like based on gender, race, ethnicity, LGBTQ+ status, religion, national origin or another personal identifier make it more difficult to shift the profession’s internal culture at a time when communities across the country are clamoring for reform, experts say.
As it turns out, building a more diverse corps of officers in law enforcement can lead to fewer traffic stops, fewer arrests and less use of force, especially within communities of color, according to a recent study, whose initial findings were published in the journal Science. Based on an analysis of records of millions of daily patrol assignments, the study’s authors conclude “diversity reforms can improve police treatment” of citizens in communities of color.
Kimberly Miller, a Colorado-based psychologist who specializes in organizational change in law enforcement, works with CUPD and other agencies around the country on how they can implement more diverse, equitable and inclusive practices among their ranks so they can better serve the communities they are sworn to serve and protect.
Among her tips to law enforcement agencies: Create targeted strategies for recruiting women and people of color to send the clear message they are welcome and their perspectives and life experiences are needed and wanted. Women leaders, in particular, can play a critical role in effecting change within agencies mired in policies and employment strategies that no longer work.
“If you want to change the culture of a police department, it starts with hiring more women and putting them in positions throughout the different components of a police department,” Miller says.
Supporting women in policing
Based on two decades of her own experience in the field, Jokerst believes women bring perspectives that can bring about positive change in law enforcement agencies, whether it be in a small campus police department like CUPD or in a larger city agency.
Only 14 years old when the Parker Police Department accepted her into its cadet program, she went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and a master’s degree in psychology. The only sworn officer in her family, she now leads a university police department with 43 commissioned officers and 60 staff members who serve a community of 35,000 students and 9,000 employees on the flagship campus of Colorado’s leading public research university.
Admittedly, campus police departments are unique in that officers are required to safeguard the well-being of a unique and particular set of constituents: thousands of students, faculty, staff, and campus visitors who trek to CU Boulder every year. Another aspect of their roles is to protect university property and to educate the public about campus policies and local, state and federal laws.
One of those federal laws is the Clery Act, which requires universities to report campus crime in a timely manner and with a high degree of accountability and transparency. To comply with the law, universities must compile a yearly security and fire safety report, Jokerst says.
“Universities have crime––anything from vandalism to violence,” the CUPD chief says. “In addition, at any given time there are thousands of people on campus. It is our job to create a safe environment for our community members to learn and work in and for those who visit our beautiful campus.”
Under Jokerst’s watch, CUPD has surpassed the national average for recruiting and hiring female police officers, and the department’s most recent recruitment plan includes goals for hiring more women and more officers of color over the next three years.
Recently, as a demonstration of its commitment to diversify its ranks, CUPD signed the 30x30 Initiative, a national pledge to improve the representation of and experiences of women working in public safety and law enforcement.
Currently, CUPD has eight commissioned female officers among its ranks, comprising about 17% of its total corps––which is above the national average of 12% for the typical police department. Since taking the helm of CUPD, Jokerst has hired three new female officers.
In addition to her commitment to hire more female officers, Jokerst has set a goal to double the number of diverse officers in her department.
“More diverse organizations are likely to increase employees’ job satisfaction and commitment to their agency,” Jokerst says. “They also make for more inclusive work environments and an appreciation of individual differences. It also leads to better decision-making that benefits our community.”
Rookie officer returns home to Boulder
CUPD officers include both veterans and newcomers who want to make a difference while they develop their careers in higher education, including Boulder native Dorie Schram.
Schram, 24, who returned to her hometown after graduating from the College of Wooster in Ohio with a bachelor’s degree in psychology, has aspired to work in policing since she was a little girl, and campus police work seemed like a good fit for her first professional job, she says.
In Ohio, she engaged in restorative justice work by helping to rehabilitate prisoners. After returning to Boulder, she applied for a CUPD job and underwent six months of rigorous police academy training followed by 15 weeks of on-the-job training. Schram feels strongly there is a lot of good that can be done in public safety and law enforcement and, “I want to be a part of that,” Schram says.
She agrees female officers tend to get “sized up” based on gender. However, though law enforcement remains a male-dominated field, she agrees women and individuals from diverse backgrounds can bring unique perspectives to the job that can help turn the tide toward more inclusive policing practices and policies.
“Women can embody that unique perspective,” she says. “This can be seen through the way we interact with the things we are presented with and in the way we relate to people.”
Regardless of gender, she adds, good communication is key to serving the public: “Being honest and respectful to people goes a long way in terms of getting cooperation, especially among groups of people such as our unhoused population or people who have had a history with the criminal justice system, as they aren’t always given that respect.”
Veteran officer ‘landed where I was supposed to be’
CUPD Commander Paula Balafas, who presides as president of the National Association of Women Law Enforcement Executives or NAWLEE, has served in law enforcement roles for the past 31 years, including tenures with the Denver Sheriff’s Department and the Wheat Ridge and Cherry Hills police departments.
Balafas started her career as a police officer after graduating from CU Boulder with bachelor’s degree in English literature and later earned a master’s degree in the same field of study. Shifting the culture of policing by hiring more women and officers of color is critical for any police department, she says.
“You really want your police force to resemble or represent the community in which it serves. More than anything else you want to have that immediate connection with your population,” Balafas says. “By hiring a diverse workforce, then you are also showing that you are willing to change.”
Networking with fellow women officers can be instrumental to helping women succeed in public safety and police work, Balafas says. After attending her first national police conference two decades ago, she was promoted to sergeant within six months, performing well throughout the competitive process due, in part, to the tips she received from other women officers.
Years later, when she got the opportunity to join CUPD, she “landed where I was supposed to be,” and now works in an academic environment that energizes her.
“I’m sure a lot of students don’t see the police as any sort of ally, but that’s kind of what we signed up for,” Balafas says. “We want to make a difference on campus. We want a safe campus, and we want students to feel like we are here for them.”
Chief Jokerst, who meets frequently with campus constituents in person or via Zoom sessions, says she wants to address community concerns about police work in general and demonstrate that she and her officers are committed to serving and protecting the campus community in progressive ways.
“National implications in police work have local impacts and cause distrust between the community and law enforcement,” she acknowledges. “It is my job to continue to build bridges with the community I humbly serve and to ensure they know CUPD is their police department. We are better together, and I will continue to work with our community and to hear their voices.”
5 questions for Kimberly Miller, PhD
Kimberly Miller is a Colorado-based police psychologist and consultant who holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Auburn University, a master’s degree in psychology from Ball State University, and a doctorate in psychology from Colorado State University.
She provides free organizational consulting to police departments and other law enforcement agencies, and studies the link between workplace culture and employee satisfaction and how that translates into more effective and inclusive police work. This Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.
What should law enforcement agencies do to build more diverse ranks?
A lot of law enforcement agencies engage in what I call “passive hiring.” They put out something on the internet, and I ask them if they are waiting for a random person to apply. I advise them to be more specific and to say exactly who they want to hire. They have to speak to people’s hearts and passions. They have to describe what their agency has to offer job applicants, about the agency’s culture, about benefits and about what it feels like to work for their organization. They have to talk about professional development and other opportunities.
I advise them to show the entire picture of their agency because women and people of color, especially, want to know that someone who looks like them is already there and is already successful. If I’m a woman, and I want to be a police officer but don’t see any women, I’m going to think to myself, “Am I going to be the only one? What’s that going to feel like?”
What do agencies need to know about hiring female officers?
Often, people will tell me they have never had a female supervisor. Or they will say things like, “Women have a harder time with this work,” or “Women don’t do well on SWAT teams” or “We’ve never had a woman on the SWAT team.”
They will also tell me, “We’ve never had women apply, but they are welcome to apply.” They always say that. “They are welcome to apply.” And I tell them, well, you might want to think about the unspoken message that women are getting here. There are probably a lot of women who would love to be on the SWAT team, but the unspoken message they are getting is that they are not welcome and that they should not apply. It’s a problem when you have a division that doesn’t have a female employee––and you don’t see that as a problem.
What have female officers told you about their on-the-job experiences?
That they want to be treated equally, because a lot of times, they are not. The attitude that women are weaker still exists. I don’t think I’ve met a woman who doesn’t want to talk about the challenges women face in the workplace. That includes talking about how men––and women––can contribute to a negative workplace environment.
Some people refuse to mentor and help new hires as they develop within the profession, and it becomes a competition. They will tell the newcomers, “I’ve made it to sergeant, and I’m not going to help you. You’ve got to figure it out yourself.” Some people think women have to “toughen up” if they are going to fit into a male-dominated work culture.
I’ve had people tell me startling stories about how they treat their trainees, and they actually think it’s OK. I ask them if that’s how they want to be treated, and they will say, “Of course not, but that’s just how it is.”
How can communities change the law enforcement culture?
Last year, I spoke at a Women Leaders in Law Enforcement meeting, a subset of the California Association of Chiefs of Police, and a lot of men who were there told me it was one of the best conferences they had ever attended. We talked about empowerment, how to be a better leader, and how to deal with difficult issues and people––all issues of interest to both men and women.
The conference provides women with a safe space to be themselves. They don’t have to act like anybody else. They don’t have to try to fit in because they already do. Doreen (CUPD Chief Jokerst) and I are trying to bring a similar leadership group to Colorado. Too many women working in law enforcement are unaware that groups like this exist, and these groups have to be a part of moving the whole law enforcement culture forward.
How long does it take to change a workplace culture, especially in policing?
To see big changes, it can take years. People push back against change. It’s hard to change workplace cultures. People always talk about how they want to be more inclusive or how they want to change the leadership style. Our problem as humans is we want to be comfortable. Even if it’s dysfunctional, it’s easier to stay a certain way because that’s our comfort zone. Resistance to change is actually hardwired in our brains neurochemically. A pull to the familiar is always stronger than a pull to the new––until you do it enough to lay down a new chemical pathway.
People say it takes 90 days to bring about change, but it actually takes about six months to really get ingrained in a habit and a new way of doing things. The bigger an organization, the harder it is to bring about that culture change. It’s not that it can’t happen. There are a lot of big corporations that have made culture change happen, but everybody has to be involved. Every supervisor. Every department head. Every division director. You have to get them all bought in and involved. Long-lasting change has to come from the top down.