A leader in efforts to recruit and retain women in law enforcement
As part of our commitment to supporting modern, diverse workplaces in public safety, Mark43 is a partner of the 30×30 Initiative, a coalition working to increase the representation of women in law enforcement recruit classes to 30 percent by 2030. Each month we will highlight an agency, a chief, or an individual officer advancing the representation and experiences of women in law enforcement across the United States.
In 2020 Kay Lokey was appointed Deputy Chief of the Metropolitan Nashville Police Department, where she became the agency’s first female Deputy Chief since 2013. In that role, she oversaw the Administrative Services Bureau, the Crime Laboratory and Crime Scene Investigations, Training Division, Human Resources Division, Behavioral Health Services, Information/Technology Division, and the Records Division.
As commander of the Training Division, Deputy Chief Lokey oversees the department’s efforts to attract and retain a diverse pool of officers. MNPD, for years, saw high dropout rates for women recruits in their academy. In response, the MNPD developed a series of initiatives to increase the number of diverse applicants and actively worked to retain them once they came onto the job. Programs such as:
- Creation of a pre-academy to help recruits improve their physical conditioning.
- Assigning mentors to all new hires.
- Designing an academy experience that feels less like a boot camp and more like an academic experience.
“Our goal is to look like the people that we go out and protect and serve,” Lokey said regarding the agency’s attempt to recruit and retain more diverse candidates, including more women.
In February 2022, Nashville’s police academy graduated a class of 25, of which 40 percent were women.
In 2021, the MNPD signed on to the national 30×30 Initiative to advance women in policing. Deputy Chief Lokey recently retired from the department after 26 years of service, but she continues to serve on the Steering Committee of 30×30, where she will help guide them on their mission.
We caught up with Deputy Chief Lokey and spoke with her about her and her department’s efforts to increase the recruitment and retention of female officers.
How did you come to be involved in the 30×30 Initiative?
I had several conversations with the Nashville’s mayor’s office. They appreciated that we needed more women in policing, so they put me in touch with 30×30 co-founder Maureen McGough. 30×30 asked me to join their steering board within a few weeks, and I said “absolutely.” 30×30 will be an ongoing adventure for me; it is very important.
How have you adjusted your recruiting efforts?
We changed our message about who we want and who we need as police officers in the last two years. We want people who can think, who can talk, and who have integrity. Everything else we can train you to do. We can teach you to drive a car and use defensive tactics, but we can’t make you a critical thinker.
We identified five characteristics that we value in our officers:
- Critical thinking
- Problem solving
This approach has opened up many opportunities for people to come up to recruiters and police officers and say, “Tell me more about this career.”
Twenty-five years ago, the perception of a police officer was male with good defensive tactics, so we are still trying to change that narrative and let people understand there is more to it. There is more to policing than what you see on TV.
Have you changed the way you train new recruits?
At the training academy, we’ve pulled away from the military approach. We now lean more toward an adult education approach.
It’s tricky to find a balance because you still need some stress-induced training. You still need officers to understand that there are a lot of quick decisions that officers have to make, but we want them to act like an adult when they go out there, so we treat the recruits like an adult. There is that balance. A little stress inoculation, but we will treat you as if you are here as a professional, and we want you to go out there and be professional.
You’ll see that more as law enforcement continues to progress and evolve as society needs it.
Are there any specific policies your department created to help retain female officers?
Working with 30×30 helped us because it allowed me to have really good conversations with Chief Drake and the executive staff.
I talked to almost all the female officers when I became Deputy Chief two years ago, and I asked “How do we keep women?” and “How do we help increase interest in promotion?” We now have two female Deputy Chiefs, one commander, two captains, and one lieutenant.
We’ve been able to provide gun range opportunities for females only. We reserve the range for two hours for everyone who wants to come, shoot, and work with an instructor. Being on the range with a group of women with common goals gives you this incredible sensation of being part of something.
More importantly, we’ve placed a focus on officers who are returning mothers. Many returning mothers said we needed a policy, so we created a Returning Mother’s Packet. Now pregnant officers have a liaison in the HR Division they can go to directly to talk about family sick leave and be in contact with while they are out.
If they come back as a nursing mother, the liaison is the one who has the necessary conversations with the officer’s supervisor so that it doesn’t fall on the female officer. These are federal laws but we specifically put it into our SOP. We identified lactation rooms throughout the county and developed a map of them, so if you are out on a call, here are some that are close to you. We provide contacts of other returning mothers for officers to use as peer supporters. We make sure they have the support they need from Behavioral Health Services. And we had conversations with the training academy about the fact that when mothers return to duty the vest and uniform do not always fit, so we work to accommodate that.
What would you recommend other agencies do to increase women candidates?
It needs to come from the very top, from the chief. The chief has to say, “This is my direction of where we need to be.” And everyone needs to believe that, all the way down. It has to become part of the culture.
We still face the challenges of a male-dominated culture, where the idea that women can’t perform as well as men is still very prevalent. Everyone — even your mayor/city manager — needs to talk about the dynamics and the good things that women can bring and are already bringing to law enforcement. You need the buy-in from everyone.
Then, you have to create a department where if I am a woman thinking about working for your department, I see there are particular things that speak to me when I look at your rules and policies. That I have opportunities and career paths in place. It’s not just a female officer making her own opportunities, but the department believes in her enough to put policies and rules in place that support her as a woman.
You need to make sure you create an inviting atmosphere for women. You have to be able to say, “It’s ok to be a woman.” We have to celebrate those differences. Show them that they are appreciated and needed and that we will listen and accommodate them.
Be sure to check out our profile of the Fairfax County Police Department.