KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Kansas City, Missouri, Police Department and the Overland Park, Kansas, Police Department have signed on to a national project that aims to increase the presence of women in law enforcement, a calling that is in officer Dianna Johnson’s blood.
"My father retired with over 30 years with Chicago PD," Johnson said. "He was my hero and somebody that I looked up to and I aspired to be like."
But she’s catching up to her father’s tenure.
Johnson has been in law enforcement for 24 years, 16 of which have been with the Overland Park Police Department. Prior to joining OPPD, she was with the Leawood Police Department.
"I was one of three female officers at that agency. You miss that camaraderie," she said. "We were in different units — we don’t have a lot of interaction."
The number of women at OPPD was higher when Johnson joined, but recently, she has taken note of a trend.
"Over the years, frankly, I’ve noticed a decline in women police officers," she said.
Women make up 12% of sworn officers and 3% of police leadership in the United States, according to the 30x30 Initiative. This initiative was launched in part by the Policing Project at NYU Law with a singular mission.
"Our goal is to get to 30% of women in police recruit classes, by the year 2030," said Maureen McGough, who works with NYU Law's Policing Project.
On Thursday morning, the Kansas City, Missouri, Police Department announced its participation in 30x30. Women like Maj. Stacey Graves make up 15% of the force, slightly ahead of the national numbers.
"I remember being one of the only females on a watch at East Patrol. I think this will further improve on that," Graves said.
30x30 has tasked agencies with learning about workplace culture for women. In Overland Park, Johnson got a 50% response rate.
"Sixty percent of the women we surveyed said they felt undervalued, and that is across the board from the police department, including officers and civilians," said Johnson, who added that an area of focus for her is addressing Overland Park’s leave of absence policy.
Johnson said injury and illness allow for a nine-month leave, but that’s not enough time if an officer learns they’re pregnant and has to address childcare needs.
"If you’re supposed to be back to full duty in nine, that’s not going to happen," Johnson said. "That’s something I would like to address with the city is that women should be able to come off the road and not put themselves at risk."
KCPD will focus on childcare needs as well to help recruit and retain more female officers.
"When you work shift work and have little ones at home, it’s really hard to find someone to watch your child. I would say that’s our biggest obstacle," said KCPD Deputy Chief Karen True.
As for the communities officers serve, these women agree a bigger female presence could lead to better community relations and outcomes for victims.
True mentioned that in many instances victims of sexual assault or child abuse prefer to speak with women officers, and Graves believes there are times when women can de-escalate a situation or offer different attention to crime victims they may not receive otherwise.
"We have fewer uses of force, we don’t resort to physical violence or trying to muscle someone into doing something, we do tend to talk to people a lot more and we tend to listen a little bit more — we are perceived as more empathetic," Johnson said.
More than 150 agencies across the country are now under the 30x30 umbrella — there are two in Missouri (Kansas City and Springfield) and three in Kansas (Overland Park, Salina and Wichita).
"The more police departments reflect the demographic diversity of the communities they serve, the better the trust and legitimacy that police department has," McGough said.
KCMO Mayor Quinton Lucas praises the effort and is hopeful to see meaningful change.
"We will continue to try to have a department that not just looks like Kansas City but that can speak to everyone, no matter the situation, no matter the experience, no matter the time in life," Lucas said.
Johnson said she isn’t just trying to improve her department right now, she’s doing it for the next generation including her daughter, who could follow in her footsteps.
"Make things better and make those changes now so that the women who are after me, long after I retire, but also, because my daughter comes into this profession, I want to give her absolutely the best working environment and best opportunities that I can," Johnson said.
Two Americas is part of a KSHB and Scripps signature issue to help introduce our community to the America you know and the America you might not know. Our role as the media is to share the news of the day, but we also seek to give a voice to people we don't hear from often.
Of course, there are many parts that make up our community, so we’re not just showing you two and we’re not pitting two sides against each other. Instead, we’re hoping to highlight solutions and showcase different perspectives to help us all better understand our area's culture, our area's past, and why our community feels the way it does today.