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Sgt. Krista Mattice and Sgt. Shannon Lackey are proud to be members of the Minot Police Department. They’re even prouder that their department has the highest percentage of female officers of any department in North Dakota.
“It helps that men respect that we can do the same job they can,” Mattice said. “Our department is very open-minded about women on the job, and we have the same opportunities as men to move forward in our careers.”
Lackey whole-heartedly agrees.
“It seems a lot more acceptable now to be a police officer for women,” she said. “There are more doors open now than there have ever been. There aren’t as many careers that are based on gender now, so I think society in general is more open.”
How does Minot’s breakdown of male vs. female officers compare to other departments in the state?
“Over the years, we’ve hired more and more female officers, and it’s been an overwhelmingly positive experience,” said Minot Police Chief Jason Olson. “It’s still a male-dominated career field, but the numbers of female officers are growing. I don’t think you can point to any single reason why, but just the fact that we are seeing more female officers is great.”
In addition to Mattice and Lackey, female officers at the Minot PD are Sgt. Jessica Sundheim, Senior Officer Caisee Sandusky, Senior Officer Carmen Asham, Senior Officer Taylor Jensen, Senior Officer Stephanie Zifchock, Officer Jessica Outly, Officer Mikali Talbott, Officer Krysta Becker, Officer Heather Summers, Officer Belinda Gladback, Officer Kristin Guerton, Officer Jenna Bjork, Officer Memorie Andrade, Officer Samantha Perez, Officer Lauren Salgado, and Officer Shelby Barrett.
Mattice and Lackey agree that there isn’t a single or simple answer to explain Minot’s higher percentage of female officers. But they stress that the Minot PD is a welcoming workplace for female officers.
Mattice has been with the Minot Police Department for 10½ years. She worked at the Dakota Boys Ranch and at the Juvenile Detention Center before joining the Minot PD.
“I’ve always wanted to be in a career where I can help people. Cops are generally adrenaline junkies and I don’t think I could go back to a job where I don’t get to be out on the street working with people every day,” she said.
Lackey joined the Minot PD 17½ years ago. She knew from a young age she wanted to be involved in law enforcement.
“I always wanted to be in a helping profession, and this has been right up my alley,” she said. “I love working with young people, and I enjoy the mentoring aspect of my job.”
Benefits of female officers
Everyone brings a different skill set to the job, Olson said. Men often have physical advantages when interacting with suspects. Women tend to be less confrontational physically, instead relying more on communication skills.
“From my observations, I think female officers have a tendency to use their ability to de-escalate a situation verbally more often than male officers,” Olson said. “Some male officers may have a tendency to rely on their physicality too much, knowing that they can overpower someone if they need to. But female officers, from my experience, might assess a situation differently, perhaps knowing they can’t physically overpower a suspect as easily, so they rely on other tools, like communication. But they are also more than capable of physically taking a suspect down when necessary.”
Both officers agree with Olson.
“I do think we bring a different skillset to this job. I think a lot of times women can de-escalate a situation in maybe a little different manner than some male officers,” Mattice said. “Do men have advantages, too? Absolutely. There are some physical aspects of the job that we can’t do at the same level as men. But I think it’s all about blending everyone’s skill sets together.”
Sometimes, just having a female officer at the scene of an incident can help calm a tense situation.
“When I’m at the scene of an incident, people are maybe expecting more compassion from me because I’m a female,” Lackey said. “That’s good for everyone.”
Added Mattice: “I think there are some men who just don’t want to be jerks in front of women, so I think sometimes a female officer can help de-escalate a situation just by being there.”
Good old boys club?
Olson and both sergeants agreed: Outdated feelings that women shouldn’t be police officers are disappearing. Female officers have proven their abilities, and acceptance in the Minot PD has been well-earned.
Lackey: “When you start out in this career, it’s going to take a while to show that you’re capable of doing the job, whether you’re male or female, but particularly if you’re a woman. I do think we’ve traditionally had to work a little harder than our male counterparts, but that’s just part of the job. I think guys tend to be a little more protective of female officers, too, even after you’re proven that you’re more than capable of taking care of yourself.”
Mattice: “I think there’s always been some of that ‘good old boys club’ mentality, and this is still a career dominated by male officers. But this department is very open about listening and empowering all of its employees. How this department is structured now, I think, is the most open it’s ever been. It’s been good for a long time, but I think this is the best it’s been. There are times when you feel like you’ve had to work harder to earn that acceptance and respect, but this department is in a really good place right now.”
Olson: “I think the biggest thing I’ve seen is there has traditionally been skepticism from some male officers about whether a female officer can hold their own in a physical confrontation. And they’ve proven that they can, so we’re getting past that thought of this being a man’s world. For all officers, but especially for female officers, how you carry yourself as a cop dictates how you’re respected on the job.”
Mattice and Lackey said all the female officers are supported by their male counterparts, and the feeling is mutual.
“When I first started, it was very hard to get on with the Minot PD. Now we have three female sergeants. I think that’s a first for our department,” Lackey said. “This is amazing to me that we have so many female officers in our department. It’s very empowering. We do have different struggles, but I trust every officer in this department to have my back, male or female.”
For both women, being part of the Minot PD isn’t just a job.
“It’s a family thing. We’re part of a family here, and you protect your family. That’s certainly not just a female thing; that’s what being a police officer is all about,” Mattice said.
Both officers said the Minot PD is fortunate to have great support from the community. In general, law enforcement is respected here, and officers work hard to cultivate and maintain a good working relationship with members of the communities they serve.
“Social media is scrutinizing law enforcement in ways that we haven’t experienced before. Some people don’t have the same level of respect for police officers that we used to see.” Lackey said. “Our community here is very supportive of the police force. I can’t tell you how many times someone will come up to us while we’re having lunch and tell us ‘thank you’ or give us a hug. That’s very rewarding, and it makes up for some of the bad days.”
Mattice echoed those sentiments.
“The support from the community here in Minot is amazing,” she added. “You definitely feel like the community cares about you, and they take care of you.”
Of course, not everyone is happy to have interactions with police officers, and perhaps even fewer people are thrilled with being pulled over or detained by a female police officer. It’s all part of the job, Lackey said.
“There has definitely been some bias from some members of the public towards female officers, but we work very hard to gain their trust and respect,” she said. “Sometimes I think the male officers we work with take offense more than we do if someone calls us a name or swears at us.”
Added Mattice: “You have to have thick skin in this job. Stuff just bounces off us now.”
Work vs. personal life
For any police officer, finding balance between work and personal life can be difficult, given their long work hours and the dangerous nature of their job. But that’s not a male vs. female struggle; it’s something all police officers face.
“This is not an easy job, but when it’s your job, it’s your lifestyle, too,” Lackey said. “Like any job, there’s time away from your family, missed T-ball games…you definitely need a strong support system at home. We’re blessed to have that.”
For Mattice, little things make a big difference. She keeps in touch with her husband periodically during her shift, even if it’s just through a quick text message.
“This job pulls you in so many different directions,” she said. “Cops are cut from a different cloth, and especially female officers. You have to have a different mindset to succeed as a police officer.”