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Woodmere police chief Sheila Mason talks about being female in law enforcement

August 6, 2018

Woodmere police chief Sheila Mason talks about being female in law enforcement

WOODMERE, Ohio — Woodmere Police Chief Sheila Mason has spent more than three decades working in law enforcement, and said she has experienced the challenges and seen the benefits of being a female police officer.

She estimates there are fewer than 20 black female police chiefs across the country, and she’s one of them. 

Mason recently became the sergeant-at-arms at the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives, a group that represents 3,000 members, including law enforcement officials at the state, local and county level.

She’s the first woman in the organization’s 42-year history to hold this position, underscoring how women, more specifically women of color, remain underrepresented in high-ranking roles in law enforcement.

Women remain a minority in law enforcement: In 2013, one in eight local police officers were women, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Women are deeply underrepresented in high-ranking positions in local police departments: Women made up 3-percent of local police chiefs nationally in 2013, and 10 percent of first-line supervisors.

“It’s still a man’s job,” Mason said. “It’s dominated mostly by males and so a lot of the guys really don’t feel that you are capable of handling that position. I’m not going to say that all of them because I have some great support from men all through my career actually. They have been my mentors.”

Mason began her career in 1979 as a dispatcher at Cuyahoga Community College. She spent more than 27 years there working her way up the ladder in law enforcement. She served in several leadership roles, including captain and commander. She joined Woodmere Village Police in 2010, and took the part-time position of police chief in 2012.

She said it was a challenge to prove that she could handle these roles, but that it got better once she showed that she knew her stuff.

“I think once the guys knew that I know how to do the job that I was not afraid to commit myself to it then that’s when I started having a much better relationship with them,” she said.

The number of full-time female police officers has grown in recent decades from 27,000 in 1987 to 58,000 in 2013, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. That progress is slow. It represents an increase from 5 percent of all officers to 12 percent in more than 25 years.

The Los Angeles Police Department last month notably promoted Regina Scott to the rank of deputy chief -- she’s the first black woman to hold the position in the history of that department.

Mason said that being a woman has been an asset her career in law enforcement. She said she’s noticed that while male police officers sometimes go on the offensive, she tries to deescalate situations through conversation.

“I think that’s the reason why you see a lot of the women that are in these positions are very successful in them because they’re dealing with the emotional part. They’re understanding that a person may be having a problem today. They’re talking to them instead of just coming at them.”

Her advice for women hoping to enter law enforcement?

“I’d try to learn every aspect of the job,” she said.

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