One of the first female police officers to join the Natick, Massachusetts, Police Department hopes to inspire future generations of women entering law enforcement.
In 1994, Cara Rossi and two other women were the first women to join the Natick P.D. (Only Framingham and Sherborn police departments had female officers at the time.)
Being the first women to join the force for that community was difficult at first.
“It was a mixed bag,” Rossi said. “Most of the officers we worked with out on the streets were great, but the public wasn’t used to seeing us. The older crowd had a problem with us because they had never seen women like us before. I did have to express to sergeants at times about things that were not acceptable to me.”
Rossi, who is now a lieutenant with the department, said that she was frequently the only female officer on duty. Now, she is the only female officer in a command position.
“Picture going into work and consistently being the only man in the room,” Rossi said. “You’re wondering how you’re going to get along with the others? How are you going to fit in? There are more than six of us on the police department now, but for my first 10 years, I was the only female on my shift. For me, in my position now, it’s a very lonely place. There’s not a lot of women. It’s like 1% nationally who reach the command staff level.”
Rossi said that women can be especially skilled as police officers due to their strong communication abilities. She explained that a lot of times, suspects who would be physically aggressive with a male officer would not show the same aggression toward a female officer.
She reflected on a case of a man who was barricaded in his home threatening violence. When she showed up instead of a male officer, the suspect cooperated.
“I started speaking to him and he came right out,” she said. “Women tend to be better with communication skills. There’s less use of force, because women are better communicators and males feel less of a need to resist for ego reasons.”
Rossi also said that a problem with some women is that their positions within the force are often limited to working as a school resource officer or sexual assault investigator.
This was the case for Holliston, Massachusetts, police detective Ciara Maguire. She told MetroWest Dailly News that she had to prove herself to her commanders before she could be promoted to her current position as a general investigator.
When she first joined the Holliston Police Department, she said there was still some reluctance about women working as police officers.
“I think there was some … I know there was some hesitancy,” she said. “I don’t think it was said out loud, but it was there. However, a lot of the officers were just happy to have another motivated person on the force, and that outweighed those who may have been skeptical about having a female join the department. I was just motivated and happy to be working as a police officer. I never felt like I had to be better than the men. I just felt I had to do a really good job for the community I served.”
Maguire said one of her best memories was when a male colleague told her he doesn’t think of her as a woman, but just as a fellow officer.
“I had a male officer come up to me and say, ‘I didn’t think you had what it takes to be a police officer, [but] I don’t think of you as a female police officer, you’re just a good police officer,’” she said. “That meant a lot.”
Rossi said that she hopes she paved the way for more women to join the force, remarking that now there are a lot more women in law enforcement than when she started.
“There weren’t a lot of role models when I first started,” she said. “There are a lot more women now than 27 years ago. I hope they feel the same responsibility as I do to be role models, so women my daughters’ ages can see that they can do it. I’m nearing the end of my career and I’m just trying to leave the field better than it was when I first started.”