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Bryan Police Dept. to get first female lieutenant

By ETHAN BUTTERFIELD

Eagle Staff Writer

When Bryan Police Sgt. Donna Richardson returns from a weeklong vacation on July 14, she will become the first female lieutenant in the department’s history.

But the 16-year police veteran from Lake Jackson wouldn’t want it told that way.

“I don’t like it being turned into a gender issue,” Richardson said. “My opinion is all about equality. As long as there’s equality, and everyone is treated like they’re police officers, whether they’re women or men or a member of a minority group, they should have the same respect and the same opportunities as anybody else.”

According to a 2001 study by the National Center for Women & Policing, 12.7 percent of all law enforcement officers in the nation were women. At the same time, women made up 46.5 percent of the nation’s workforce.

The percentage of women in top command positions was even smaller, according to the study. For police departments such as Bryan’s with more than 100 officers, women held 7.3 percent of top positions. In departments with fewer than 100 officers, women held just 3.4 percent of top positions.

Conditions have gotten better for women police since they started joining the force in large numbers in the 1970s, said Mary Jo Blahowski, president of Texas Women in Law Enforcement.

“It has gone from women not being accepted in departments to the point where, yes, [they will] accept them in certain positions,” Blahowski said. “To now, where women are actually getting moved up to positions of management.”

Under those circumstances, Richardson said she does understand the significance of her promotion.

“For those that may feel that they don’t have an opportunity, or the opportunity is not out there, I hope that they can see that it is out there,” she said. “And they can accomplish whatever they want to accomplish.

“To get where you want in life and in your career, you need to have ability, and you need to have opportunity. And I hope I will show that if you have the ability, you have the desire, that the opportunity can be there.”

Diane Cary Cisneros — Richardson’s mentor from her days with the Lake Jackson Police Department, where she worked from 1987 to 1991 — said Richardson’s rise through the ranks of the Bryan police force is no surprise.

“I knew that once she left Lake Jackson that she had definite potential,” said Cisneros, a detective sergeant. “She kept up with her work, and she kept up with the changes in law enforcement, which are all the time. And very intelligent and knowledgeable. And dealt with people real well. I knew she would go places eventually.”

Cisneros said she’s very happy for Richardson — and a little jealous.

“I envy her totally,” Cisneros said. “She’s done good.”

Richardson left Lake Jackson, where she grew up, in 1991 to find a bigger department that could offer better opportunity for advancement. Bryan provided that, she said.

Since starting as a patrol officer in Bryan in 1991, Richardson also has served as a detective in the criminal investigation division and was promoted to sergeant in the summer of 1999.

Richardson credits her educational background with helping her succeed. She graduated from Stephen F. Austin State University, got certified as a teacher and taught kindergarten before joining the Lake Jackson police.

It’s the people skills Richardson honed as a teacher that have served her so well and make her right for the promotion, said her supervisor, Bryan Assistant Chief Peter Scheets.

“I think she’s real good in terms of connecting with the citizens that she serves, listening to their concerns and then addressing them,” Scheets said. “I think she’s just what we need.”

Richardson said it’s also what helps her deal with the flak she gets from people who aren’t thrilled with being arrested or questioned by a female officer. Though Richardson said she has experienced that far less than many other female officers, it’s always an issue.

“I’ve always, regardless of the situation — who they are and how much trouble they’ve given — I’ve had communication skills to be able to deal with individuals and try to de-escalate the situation,” she said.

Two other Bryan sergeants — Wayland Rawls and Ben Smith — also are being promoted to lieutenant. Both will be promoted on Monday. Richardson will be promoted when she returns from vacation the following week.

• Ethan Butterfield’s e-mail address is ebutterfield@theeagle.com.

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