County Magazine | January 29, 2024
Women With Badges
When a mother frantically reported her son missing after failing to show up to school one day, it turned out he had just missed the bus, then went home and locked the door. Hartley County Deputy Sheriff Penny Loudder calmly explained to him that everything was OK and he wasn't in trouble, but next time to call his mom and let her know about the situation.
It's this compassionate perspective, explained Loudder, that allows female law enforcement officers to thrive in their jobs.
"I want to protect them," said Loudder, who is Hartley County's first female deputy sheriff and currently its only female officer.
The Texas Commission on Law Enforcement estimates women fill approximately 23% of peace officer, county jailer and telecommunicator positions statewide. Research shows that law enforcement departments benefit in many ways from hiring female officers, from the use of less excessive force, to community members' perception that female officers are more honest and empathetic.
Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez, one of seven female sheriffs, explained that officers who are not as physically strong as their colleagues bring different approaches to problem-solving. These officers, who are often women, work harder and smarter.
"Sometimes it just takes connecting with the right people who will support you, encourage you and mentor you to take you to that place of confidence."
— Sharese Hurst, CMIT division director and Texas Jail Association executive director
"It takes both women and men to do this job and to do it right," she said, noting that women more often resolve situations using de-escalation. "It's easier to work a scene when you have men and women and are truly representing your community."
Being in the minority also comes with challenges. It can be tough not being one of the guys while also not really fitting in with her female co-workers, who hold administrative positions, Loudder said.
But, she noted, her supervisors have also adapted their department in unique ways to ensure she can do her job as well as everyone else. While larger officers drive Chevy Tahoes, Loudder, who is 5 feet tall, has a Dodge Durango with running boards. They also purchased smaller guns so the sheriff, chief deputy, school resource officer and four deputies in the department can all use the same equipment.
The Correctional Management Institute of Texas (CMIT) at Sam Houston State University offers a powerful resource for female law enforcement officers, the annual Women in Criminal Justice Conference. The 2023 conference hosted almost 500 women from across the country.
Sharese Hurst, CMIT division director and Texas Jail Association executive director, explained that past sessions have covered challenges such as breaking the glass ceiling, preparing for promotional board sessions, mental health, courtroom testimony and leadership.
Participants also leave with access to CMIT's online discussion group. Limited to conference attendees, the group is an ongoing opportunity to discuss issues such as the pay gap and the perception that women are weaker than men.
"Sometimes it just takes connecting with the right people who will support you, encourage you and mentor you to take you to that place of confidence," Hurst said.
Who was the first female elected sheriff in Texas?
Edna Reed Clayton Dewees