The Power of NJ Women in Law Enforcement

Check out the evidence on these eight pages to help ascertain the profound impact and achievements female law enforcement officers in New Jersey have made, are making and will continue to make on their profession. Their skills, talent, aptitude and acumen are way beyond the 15 references to “first” in the descriptions with the pictures documenting their power on these pages.

Chiefs, lieutenants are sergeants mix in among FTOs, certified Police Training Commission instructors, motors officers, bias crimes detectives, SWAT-certifications, K-9s, domestic violence liaisons, LGTBQ liaisons, school resource officers, third-generation officers and even a piper. It’s a microcosm of NJ women in law enforcement, but only a microsection of the essential and indispensable attributes female officers bring to every police department, sheriff’s office and corrections facility in the state.

The officers you see here represent approximately .001 percent of the number of female NJSPBA members currently crushing it in New Jersey law enforcement. The evidence in these pages is as illuminating and enlightening as, for example, the achievements celebrated at the annual PBA Valor Awards. Amid all those honors, there always seems to be a medal or citation recognizing a female officer who ran down and apprehended a male who is a foot taller and 100 pounds heavier.

This spotlight on female law enforcement officers finds more and more like Hopatcong Chief Meghan McCluskey who admitted that she never thought such a promotion was possible until making sergeant and realizing what is needed to run a department right.

“I would say the profession has become better for women because of other women over the years pushing through the doors to open these spots,” submits McCluskey, who also served as Hopatcong Local 149 State Delegate from 2007 to 2009. “I don’t want to make it like, ‘Oh, it’s just easy for any woman walking in right now. But I think the profession is more accepting of women.”

Or, as this report seems to reveal, women are more worthy of being accepted. On a recent Friday around 4:30 p.m., a man with a gun walked into the police department lobby in Hopatcong and started screaming. Only McCluskey and her lieutenant were working at the time. Together, they applied the necessary force to disarm the situation.

It’s not hard to get hyped about NJ women in law enforcement because what they are doing is straight fire. This report quickly skyrocketed off the charts when looking for a few female officers to photograph for the cover of this issue. The phones blew up with subjects worthy of featuring, and, again, there’s only .001 percent represented here.

So this is literally only the tip of the iceberg, or the tip of the spear, with regard to the thousands of New Jersey female officers making an impact. And this is not a “look at me” appeal from these officers or a “me, too” report. In fact, as they detail their learning events, observations and perspectives on equality in the profession, it is clear that the only use of “me” for female officers is for spelling “team.”

The opportunity to tell these stories is not because they are officers who are women. It’s because they are officers who happen to be women. And good cops, at that. Great cops, in fact.

“I think there’s a lot more determination to do the job and do the job well and properly being a female in law enforcement because you are setting an example for those who are going to come after you,” states Kim Best, a Middletown Township Local 124 member who has been on for 25 years. “When I was hired, I feel like there was a lot more having to prove yourself as a female in this job. But now I feel it’s more accepted to see a woman in uniform.”

It’s not even about gender

Initially, the idea to feature NJ Women In Law Enforcement bubbled up from Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office Detective Megan Flanagan, a Local 339 member, and Morris Township Lieutenant Heather Glogolich, a Local 133 member, appearing at the NJSPBA Mini Convention in March. Flanagan and Glogolich are the current president and vice president of NJ Women in Law Enforcement (NJWLE), an organization that has been working since 2004 to promote diversity and encourage more females to come into the profession.

Flanagan and Glogolich are leading an executive board that has become focused on not just supporting females in law enforcement, but building partnerships with agencies, organizations and their leadership. Female-only tactical handgun training classes, defensive tactics for women and understanding human trafficking are examples of the customized resources and education NJWLE believes its members – who are both female and male – need.

Additionally, NJWLE is taking on initiatives like generating a uniform pregnancy policy throughout the state considering that, unbelievably, not all agencies even have one. And the organization has been asked to offer input on recruitment of diverse personnel to be used as part of the attorney general’s guidelines.

“We don’t like to segregate ourselves. We want to provide an opportunity for different conversations to be heard,” Glogolich explains. “Sometimes, we’ll have conversation with men in our profession, and they’ll be like, ‘Wow, I never thought of it that way. I never realized that after you had a baby, it was more uncomfortable for you to put on your vest because of nursing or things that go along with that.’ When you give people an opportunity to engage in the conversations, they become more knowledgeable, more understanding, more empathetic and more resilient as a whole in their career.”

NJWLE is also facilitating networking to share best ideas on such topics as community policing policies and officer resiliency training. These conversations aim to give members more tools and allow engaging in conversations that grow agencies and make officers more well-rounded.

And the agencies are following the NJWLE lead. The Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office, for example, recently sent Flanagan to represent the agency at a local college career fair.

“It was a great time because there were several females who came up and asked questions about the profession of law enforcement: ‘How can I start my career in law enforcement? What should I do about going to college? What classes should I take?’” Flanagan notes. “We can take the time to give them insight, support and guidance and really try to give inspiration to females to get into this.”

Additionally, NJWLE is getting more and more questions from agencies about hiring, about finding extra resources for training and dealing with something they don’t know how to handle.

“We recently had the opportunity to be in front of a roomful of men at the New Jersey Chiefs Association. Every single male chief in that room was engaged and receptive, and we’ve have had several reach out to us,” Glogolich adds. “It’s not even about gender. It’s just about are you capable of doing your job and doing it well. In order to break the stigma and break this mold, we need people from all walks of life. So it’s not really a male-female thing. It’s like, ‘How are you at your job?’”

You will get a lot more respect

Measuring the power of NJ women in law enforcement allows asking how far the profession has come from when female officers felt there was zero margin for error because of the fear of backroom chuckling over their mistakes. Somerset County Sheriff’s K-9 Officer Shannon Snook recalls those days when she came on in 2015 and there weren’t many female officers in the county’s 21 towns. Every time a female needed a pat down, it seemed like she was called out, even when she was off duty.

Or how far the profession has come from when Best gave birth to her daughter. She was breastfeeding and working rotating shifts. There was no place at headquarters to manage breastfeeding and no accommodations. In fact, it wasn’t until she made detective three years later and worked days that childcare became manageable.

It has progressed to situations like Caldwell Sergeant Candice Marinaro has experienced as a firearms instructor supervising male officers, especially ones who are new to the job.

“They’re a little more comfortable with me that sometimes they are with a male,” relates Marinaro, a West Essex Local 81 member. “I guess maybe it’s because I’m a mom. I kind of take a mom tone with the young kids. They need their confidence built up, so I let them know, ‘Take it easy, relax, you can do this.’ So I think I have been very well received.”

William Paterson University Police Officer Liz DeSantis, the State Campus Police Local 278 president, remembers when she came on around 2008 that female officers didn’t mind being called one of the guys. That meant they accepted you. They wanted to hang out with you, and you didn’t mind if they cursed around you.

Now, the cursing goes both ways, but DeSantis says that female officers don’t worry about the validation of being one of the guys. Actually, Verona Local 72 member Stephanie Colon reveals that her experiences indicate that female officers don’t worry anymore about the boys’ club on the job.

“Maybe because of the way I handle situations, I get a lot more respect,” continues Colon, who has been on since 2016. “If this is what you want to do and you’re intimidated by being in such a male-dominated field, that should push you even more because you will get a lot more respect.”

When she went to the academy 25 years ago, Montclair Lieutenant Stephanie Egnezzo had four other female officers in her class from her department. So perhaps it’s not about how New Jersey women in law enforcement have come, but how far they can go.

More acceptance, she observes, will continue to come if female officers don’t worry about trying to prove themselves.

“It still remains a very physically demanding profession, and no bad guy on the street cares whether you are a woman. You need to be able to handle your business,” Egnezzo remarks. “But we’re taught and trained for that. Even though we may be shorter or smaller doesn’t mean we’re not mighty.”

The balance of both

The journey of NJ women in law enforcement has long progressed past the us-against-them mindset that might have been the viewpoint in 1916 when Constance Kopp was officially hired as New Jersey’s first female deputy sheriff. And nobody insists it’s an us-or-them decision when responding to a call.

With the education and experience coming through NJWLE’s efforts and other sources, agencies are learning about how they can be equipped to handle the ever-increasing diversity of calls. Whereas patting down a female is not necessarily women’s work, neither is having the female officer just to handle the female partner in a domestic.

“I can speak to the guy or the girl, but I see the guy chill out and clam down when a female gets there,” Verona’s Colon confirms. “I feel confident in my training. I boxed for a couple of years, so I’m not afraid to confront a bigger man.”

See, that’s the beauty of it. If victim or a perp feels they can talk to female officer because they might have a softer side, well, isn’t that what’s best for the department and the community by potentially deescalating the situation?

And even though there are alpha males in a department, there are also alpha females. Which creates an opportunity for premium partnerships because either the male or the female can take the lead.

“Each gender brings strengths to the table,” Somerset’s Snook asserts. “It might be mental strength. It might be physical strength. It might be prior job experience. With the balance of both the male mindset and the female mindset, as well as the skillsets, you’re more powerful than two of the same. So I think there’s a breakthrough that generationally is different.”

This report is only the tip of iceberg, and more will come in subsequent issues. But Chief McCluskey first saw evidence of how she had made a profound impact right before she made sergeant. And it wasn’t because she is a woman, but because she just happens to be a woman.

“When people started coming to me for advice or call me for advice when I wasn’t working, that’s when I realized,” she recalls.

And isn’t that what makes a good cop?