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Durango police are looking for a few good women

Department wants at least 30% of its officers to be female by 2030
Kathleen O’Toole worked as a police officer in Boulder for 11 years before joining the Durango Police Department in 2014. Before that she was a reporter with no experience related to law enforcement. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald file)

The Durango Police Department is making a push to hire women officers – a whole bunch of women officers. And they hope women who may never have considered the job or dismissed it for one reason or another will take another look because they may have exactly the right stuff.

“Have you ever been at a restaurant and seen a server dealing with five tables?” said Durango Deputy Chief of Police Brice Current. “And maybe one table is rude, another is loud and one table has five different drink orders. One wants a straw, one doesn’t. One wants a lime, another doesn’t want ice. And she gets the order without writing it down while another table is impatiently flagging her for a check. Then she delivers all the orders without a mistake and with a smile. She would be a fantastic cop.”

The Durango Police Department has three female officers. It would like to increase that to 12. And that’s just to start. That’s why the department signed on to the 30 x 30 initiative this year. The initiative is a coalition of police, researchers and professional organizations with the shared goal of increasing the number of police women across the United States to 30% by 2030.

“We want our police department to mirror our city, and this community is over 50% women,” Current said. “We know diversity makes us stronger. Fifty percent would be better, but we need to start somewhere.”

Research suggests that women officers use less force and less excessive force, Current said. Women are named in fewer complaints and lawsuits and are perceived by communities to be more compassionate. Research also indicates that female officers can achieve better outcomes for victims, especially in cases of sexual assault.

Starting pay for a Durango police officer is $55,000 to $77,112 a year along with a premium benefits package.

“In Durango you don’t have to look any further than a local cross-fit gym or mountain bike trail to see women that can outpace and out-lift most people,” Current said. “Many female officers say that looking back, they were worried about the danger of the job.”

But those worries vanished once they realized how safe the nature of the work actually is, he said.

Durango Detective Kathleen O’Toole was a 31-year-old newspaper reporter investigating the Littleton Police Department for gender bias when its department spokesman suggested she’d make a good police officer.

“I was like, ‘Oh no, I can’t,’ which surprises me now that I sloughed it off,” she said. “Because I think there’s just this confidence gap sometimes with women that we need to overcome. And being a police officer is awesome. You get this impression that it might be intimidating through television and movies and things like that. But keep in mind, that’s television and the movies.”

O’Toole has been on the job now for 21 years. She is 5 feet 4 inches tall and 135 pounds. She wears glasses. She’s neither imposing nor intimidating. But she’s broken up more than a few bar fights. And she not only feels safe, she feels empowered.

“As a woman, being trained in law is so powerful,” she said. “Women are victimized by crime at a higher rate than men and just learning the law, how to protect myself, how to protect others, learning ground fighting, learning to shoot, it’s really empowering for women.”

The biggest thing for O’Toole in starting on the path to police work was realizing she wasn’t just going to be put on the streets. She had no military background. Had never worked security. She’d shot her father’s gun maybe three times while growing up.

“But they train you,” she said. “You get tactics training, weapons training, safe driving training. You learn how to fight. But the big thing to remember is that it’s actually pretty rare you’re ever using those tactics. And I loved the academy. And I loved what one of my instructors said: ‘If you think you need backup, you need backup.’ Nothing is saying you have to stand and fight someone by yourself.”

Brains and talking with people have been her best weapons during her time on the force. The job is more about reading people and situations than anything else, she said. And the profession is changing, especially post George Floyd, she added.

“We need to look at different ways of policing,” she said. “The show up – kick ass and take names isn’t flying. It never has really if you want to be honest.”

Empowering women is what O’Toole comes back to in her pitch for new female officers. There are benefits that woman bring to the policing table, and she is excited the department is attempting the 30 x 30 initiative, she said.

“We can take care of ourselves in this profession,” she said. “I’ve been wanting more sisters in the locker room. It’s needed. We really do need more women in law enforcement. This is a great opportunity for women and I don’t think there are enough of us thinking about it. And if I can say one thing – you can do it. I’m nothing special.”


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