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Badge-wearing women tackle job challenges

By: Don Chaddock, Managing Editor
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Nine regional law enforcement officers were on hand at a local college to speak about their careers. What was unique? All are female.

The symposium, dubbed Women in Law Enforcement, was held Tuesday, March 12, at Folsom Lake College in The Roost.

Most of the officers said they “found” their way into law enforcement through other career paths.

Folsom Police Detective Debra Salvo said she had hoped to be a lawyer but a ride-along with law enforcement changed that goal.

Los Rios College Police Capt. Valerie Cox started out in the armed forces.

“It was a different start for me,” she said. “I started in 1986 as military police. … I’ve worked as a patrol officer, training and communications. I currently oversee Folsom Lake College and Sacramento City College.”

FBI Special Agent Neeiki Bianchi, with the Sacramento Field Office, said there is a lot of travel with the agency and females represent only 10 percent or less of all the field agents.

“I’ve been in the bureau about nine years,” she told the gathering of roughly 30 students. “In a few years, I could be in another state.”

Rancho Cordova Police Chief Rosanne Richeal, who is a captain with the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Office contracted with the city of Rancho Cordova to act as their chief, said there are a lot of opportunities in law enforcement.

Citrus Heights Sgt. Michelle Perez said the police academy is difficult.

“It takes dedication, but you can get through it,” she said.

 El Dorado County Sheriff’s Lt. Jackie Noren started out in a non-sworn position at the county jail. She said law enforcement was in her blood.

“I’m the daughter of a longtime (law enforcement officer) and my sister is in law enforcement,” she said. “It’s a passion.”

Los Rios College Police Officer Tanya Racki said she started out in dispatch.

“I was a dispatcher for seven years,” she said. “We would send out the calls and wait and wonder what the officers were doing, wonder what was happening. I put myself through the academy because I wanted to know what was happening on the other side of the radio.”

Those who have been in their careers longer said there were challenges at first while the younger officers said they hadn’t seen much in the way of sexual discrimination.

Bianchi said being smaller than most in her training class put her ad a disadvantage, but she didn’t let it show.

“I never felt any difference in gender,” she said. “I didn’t focus on my gender, especially physically. I was probably the lightest in my class by 20 pounds.”

She said that often resulted in taking on extra pounding in the defense courses, but it was worth the effort.

“You should have expectations as a female not to be treated differently,” she said. “It needs to be a level playing field.”

Cox said the military was difficult.

“Coming from the military, I faced stiff resistance. In our career field, in 1986, women had only been allowed for about 10 years at that point,” she said.

She stressed to the women in the audience it was about the perceptions of others and self-confidence is key.

“It’s things other people put on you as a woman,” she said.

Noren said she was aware she was different as soon as she stepped into the sheriff’s office.

“I was going into a male-dominated profession and I knew I would be treated differently,” Noren said. “When you’re walking down the hall and people stop talking, it (can be tough). I thought, ‘I’m going to do my job and the best I possibly can.’”

She said women have their place in law enforcement.

“I never imagined there would be geeks in law enforcement, but they’re necessary,” she said. “As women, we’re needed.”

Richeal said women can do the job just as well as anyone else.

“I’m 5-foot, 4-inches and I’ve taken down a 6-foot-, 300-pound guy,” she said. “That’s a big guy. It’s technique, not strength.”

Noren said the job can be depressing if officers allow it to affect them.

“When you’re dealing with people at their worst, in their (crisis situation), it can bring you down. You’ve got to have a positive attitude.”