NDSP chief discusses women in police force
Stephanie Snyder | Tuesday, February 21, 2017
Saint Mary’s President Jan Cervelli and the Belles Against Violence Office (BAVO) hosted a panel of female former and current law enforcement officers Monday night to honor women in law enforcement and to welcome the newly appointed Notre Dame Security Police (NDSP) Chief Keri Kei Shibata.
Cervelli said she has been looking forward to hosting Shibata on campus.
“Notre Dame made history,” she said. “I’m very proud as a South Bend native — Chief Shibata’s hire is historic both for the department and the South Bend region at large”
Shibata is the first female and person of color to serve as the chief of NDSP, and she is currently the highest ranking member of NDSP. Before joining NDSP, Shibata received her bachelor’s degree in biblical literature from Bethel College. She then went on to receive an executive MBA from Notre Dame.
In 2004, she began working at Notre Dame as one of the first members of the Residence Hall Security Squad. In later years, she has been responsible for the University’s 911 dispatch center, crime prevention, outreach, security, guest services, Clery Act reporting and training for Notre Dame’s Campus Safety Officers.
To honor the women who have paved the way for female police officers today, Cervelli recalled a brief history of female officers in the U.S. Lola Baldwin became the first female police officer in the United States on April 1, 1908, Cervelli said. Six years later, South Bend hired Minnie Evans, the city’s first female officer. Today, only 14 percent of all police officers are female and 1 percent of all police chiefs are female, according to Cervelli.
“The number of women serving as officers and police chiefs across the United States is still low,” Cervelli said. “So we’ve got work to do, girls. But that’s slowly changing.”
Shibata said she came into law enforcement accidentally. She originally wanted to be a pastor and only applied for the Residence Hall Security Squad job to help pay her bills, she said.
“I really loved it,” Shibata said. “I was in the Residence Hall Squad for a year and became a police officer the following summer.”
Former dispatch coordinator for Mishawaka Char Monges said she too came into law enforcement by accident. She had been looking for a job and came across an ad in search of a record communications clerk, she said.
“It was a life-changing event,” Monges said. “The thing from the very first day until now that has carried me through this career is it’s different every single day — I’m always learning something.”
Investigator Crystal Garcia-Betts said there were only five female officers out of 118 total officers on the force when she was first hired as an officer in Elkhart. Because being a female officer was uncommon at the time, the women had to prove they were capable to the male officers, she said.
“Until you had an incident where the other guys would say, ‘She’s all right,’ we weren’t accepted,” Garcia-Betts said. “Today they’re accepted. You come on and you’re an officer — that’s all you have to say.”
Lieutenant Laurie Steffen, a midnight shift patrol supervisor, said she became an officer right out of high school, despite her father not being supportive of her decision. She recommends that if any women are interested in the field, they should find a mentor.
“Just have a good mentor in place,” she said. “If it’s something you want, then follow that dream, because it is worth following.”
Shibata said women officers are capable of bringing a unique brand of compassion to the job that is incredibly helpful in daily interactions as an officer.
“I’ve never been in a fight, because I’ve been able to talk people down,” Shibata said. “Having strong communication skills is essential. Women also don’t have an ego, needing to prove oneself, but rather, they try to solve the situation.
“ … We do need women to be interested, and who want to be involved. Diversity helps us connect better with other people.”
Having diversity on the force is crucial in some situations, Garcia-Betts said.
“Sometimes, men may not be able to speak to women about domestic violence,” she said. “A woman may not feel safe talking to a male officer at that time.”
Shibata recently had the honor of attending the National Association Women Law Enforcement Executive (NAWLEE) conference, where she was able to meet fellow female officers who inspired her, she said.
“Most of them had to fight to be heard and respected,” Shibata said. “It made me feel very blessed for the experience that I’ve had and the people that have supported me. I’ve had a very positive experience and had the support of men and women within the department and throughout the University.”
Shibata said the only limits to becoming a female law enforcement officer come from within.
“Don’t be afraid to try to be the best, to beat the guys,” she said. “Don’t let your knowledge that you may be one of the few be an extra burden to you.”