Female officers from the Washington Township Police Department, along with Chief Patrick Gurcsik, attended the first Women in Law Enforcement Association breakfast sponsored by the Gloucester County Prosecutor’s Office last month.
The breakfast was not only a networking event, but an opportunity to announce a mentoring program for women in law enforcement across the county. The township police department’s own Jessica Walton had been chosen to participate.
“It is important for me as the agency head to assure that our culture of policing in Washington Township is accepting of all female police officers on the force,” said Gurcsik. “I have a mission of making sure we are recruiting, promoting and hiring female officers.
“We want to promote an agency culture of acceptance more than ever before.”
“I was asked if I wanted to be involved in the program and I said yes right away,” said Walton. “Currently I am assigned to the police academy as the lead instructor of the class … So that was one of my first roles where I was able to be a mentor and I absolutely fell in love with it.
“I love the training aspect and guiding people in the right direction and teaching them,” she added. “So when this opportunity presented itself, I thought it was perfect.”
Gurcsik looks forward to seeing Walton succeed in her new role.
“I am proud that officer Walton was selected to be a mentor to other female officers based on her reputation with Gloucester County and her level of experience in law enforcement,” the chief explained. “I am confident in her abilities to provide proper guidance and support to fellow officers here in Washington Township and throughout the county.”
The mentorship program was created to help female officers in a male dominated field. Mentors offer support to women with issues specific to females, such as pregnancy, and help them survive and thrive as members of law enforcement.
“I have been witness to one of our other officers who is now going through her second pregnancy, so I have seen officers starting a family and raising a family in this profession, and I know that is extremely difficult,” Walton noted.
“You are taken off the road immediately after finding out you are pregnant, and then you are off the road for nine months,” she added. “When you return, you are almost starting over.”
Although women in law enforcement are not new, they still face barriers, including having to work harder than males to earn respect and move up in the ranks.
“The guys want to know they can count on you, and the way you can do that is by earning their respect,” Walton explained. “You might have to work a little harder to overcome that weaker sex mentality … but you have to learn to break out of that within yourself and also within the people around you.”
Women also bring different skills than men to law enforcement, including being more nurturing, Walton said, while the males have their own natural skills.
“I think that as long as we work together and realize that we might not be equal, we can use each other’s strengths to do the best job possible,” Walton said. “That is when the barriers can start to come down.”
But the officer also believes bringing more women into police work will help eliminate barriers.
“I am a huge proponent of women in law enforcement,” Walton acknowledged. “I feel like there are so few of us, that we should really all be supporting each other … I want to see more and more women succeeding and excelling in this position, and if there is something I can do to help that, or even make women feel more comfortable being in this position, I want to do that.”
On top of the mentoring program, the Women in Law Enforcement Association also offers women networking opportunities, such as an event at Blue Cork Winery in Williamstown where women in police work could congregate in a relaxed environment and discuss issues and solutions.
Lt. Stacie Lick of the Camden County Prosecutor’s Office has spearheaded the mentoring initiative and invited area law-enforcement agencies to participate. For information, contact Walton at email@example.com or Lick at firstname.lastname@example.org.
While the association is based in Gloucester County, Walton encourages anyone in the surrounding area to reach out if they want to be involved.
“I hope that if other counties don’t have this in place, then they will start to follow suit,” she said. “But we are not going to turn away women just because they are in another county.”