When Suzanne Gale joined the Nantucket Police Department as a full-time officer in 2003, she was one of only three female cops on the force. The South Water Street police station didn’t even have a female locker room at the time, and Gale said she had to work twice as hard to get the opportunity compared to some of her male counterparts.
Twenty years later, Gale is still with the department, but now she is one of eight female officers with NPD - a group that now makes up a full quarter of the island’s police force. The number of women working as full-time officers with the Nantucket Police Department has grown significantly over the past two decades, and today they serve as sergeants, detectives, school resource officers, motorcycle officers, and as members of the department’s SWAT team.
“I remember there was a time when there were no females in the department,” said Gale, who worked as a dispatcher and special officer before attending the police academy and getting her shot to become a full-time officer. “Having females on every shift helps. Some people just like talking to females better than males. Sometimes we just think outside the box, and we have different ideas on how to get things done.”
For Gale and Sgt. Janine Mauldin, who has been with NPD since 2005, witnessing the growing number of female colleagues joining the ranks of the department over the years has been gratifying - and a little surprising to them. As the two longest-serving women with NPD, they have a unique perspective.
“Honestly, it’s almost a shock to have eight females on the department,” Mauldin said. “I thought four was a lot at one time, but it’s nice to have such a diverse group of females. Each of us brings our own personality and niche to the profession, which shows in all the different positions we hold in the department. We are all doing our own thing at times and don’t have an opportunity for all of us to see each other on a consistent basis, but there is a silent bond. I don’t want to get into specifics, but there have been times if one of us needed something, we would look out for our sister.”
For the women of NPD, working as females in the traditionally male-dominated field of law enforcement generally hasn’t been an issue within the department. They are treated as equals by their male colleagues, they said. But in some cases it is the interactions with the public when they notice a difference between the responses to a male officers versus a female officer. And those differences can be both positive and negative.
“Most times we are generally treated the same way when responding to calls or amongst the public,” said NPD Detective Amanda Schwenk. “However, sometimes I have experienced not always being shown the same respect as my male coworkers. I have been referred to as ‘honey’ or ‘sweetheart’ instead of Officer. There have also been times where people simply just don’t respect you as a female and only want to talk to the male officer on scene. I have had sexual derogatory comments made by either people passing by while patrolling or individuals we are dealing with more times than I can count. I have been asked why I am a police officer and usually followed up with ‘aren’t you scared?’ or “how do you handle the calls?’ The negativity is easily outweighed by the positive interactions and being able to simply brush off the negative comments or simply ignore them. The positives have been that sometimes there is a different reaction with a female officer on scene depending on the calls. Having a woman there during a call with female victims or females in need of assistance can help bring some ease and maybe they are more comfortable to open up and talk.”
They may not always get to work together on the same shift or even get to see each other as a group within the department on a day-to-day basis. But the camaraderie amongst the eight female officers at NPD was clearly evident when they came together on Monday for the photo that leads this story. The banter, nicknames, and inside jokes revealed a tight-knit group of women that each bring different talents and perspectives to the job, along with a universal respect for the profession, the island community, their department, and each other.
“We as a whole (females) can always count on each other to lift each other up and be our biggest cheerleaders,” said Officer Cassie Thompson, who serves as the department’s school resource officer. “There are already so many people/factors that want to tear down women (not only in policing but in general) and we, as women, should be lifting each other up. I think the women of NPD do that. Our banter yesterday during the photo shoot gave you a glimpse into our little ‘club’ and having the ability to surround yourself with likeminded, career driven, confident women is a privilege.”
The first full-time female police officer hired by the Nantucket Police Department was Donna Mayo, who earned that distinction in 1981 at the age of 21. Mayo had worked her way up from being a meter maid, to a dispatcher, and then a special police officer.
Before Gale and Mauldin joined the force, there were other women who served with the NPD, including Christine Ladner, who became a full-time officer in 1995 and was promoted to the rank of sergeant in 2003. There was also Kathy Fougere Gallant, whose nephew Nicholas Gallant now works for NPD as a patrol officer. But up until the last few years, the number of female officers on the island police force at any given time could usually be counted on one hand.
For Nantucket Police Department Lt. Angus MacVicar, who has had a hand in hiring almost all of the women currently on the force, the goal was never to hire more female officers. It was always, he said, simply to hire the best police officers. Even so, seeing the eight female officers assembled together for a photo on Monday was striking, MacVicar said, and a point of pride for the department.
“You don’t really view them as female or male, you see them as being a police officer,” MacVicar said. “We have really good police officers here. Some have more experience or a different skill set. But I don’t ever think of whether they’re a female or a male. We truly hire the most qualified candidate through the application process.”
Nantucket Current connected with each of NPD’s eight female officers for this story, and posed the same questions to each. We’ve selected a highlight from each officer, and you can read their full responses at the links below:
Officer Suzanne Gale
"I have been with the Nantucket Police Department for over 32 years. I’ve seen a lot of changes over the years and a lot of people come and go from Nantucket. I became a police officer because I really want to help people. My father was a Marine. My mother was a nurse and EMT. My family was always helping people in some way. I thought this was the best field for me: being on Nantucket and working as an officer. I also was able to work with the animals, another field I love doing. I feel it is very hard for females to become a police officer. I think females have to work twice as hard to make it in this field."
Sgt. Janine Mauldin
There are definitely times when being a female doesn’t benefit you. In certain cultures, some men don’t acknowledge women - especially ones with authority. Sometimes as a female officer, you learn to take a step back and let your male partner take the lead in order to service the call. Other times, that womanly/motherly presence is what is helpful in a situation. Many times people tell me they are glad to see a female officer. Making a person more comfortable during a tough situation is sometimes what is needed in this line of work."
Sgt. Jacquelyn Hollis
"The best part about being a Nantucket Police Officer is having the opportunity to work with a younger department as well as the variety of other agencies that come to the island at different times for certain events."
Det. Amanda Schwenk
"Being a female in this field of work, at least for me, has never felt like it’s any different than my male co-workers. It could be that I have been fortunate to start and continue my career at NPD. Working at NPD, I have always felt accepted and never felt treated differently than my male coworkers. When you look at NPD, we currently have eight women working here who all hold different ranks and positions. We have women who are Sergeants, Detectives, School Resource Officer, Motorcycle Officer and part of the S.W.A.T. team. I think with any profession, mindset matters. As long as you're knowledgeable within your profession, continue to train, both physically and mentally, and are able to do the job, then being female or male doesn’t really matter. This however has been my experience and I am sure it may be different for other females within this profession across the country."
Officer Cassie Thompson
"I don’t think my male colleagues are called “honey” or “sweetheart”. Not sure many have received marriage proposals either. But those interactions are few. Mostly the public is kind and respectful. I’ve had parents thank me for being such a great role mode for their daughters."
Officer Meghan Giacalone
"I find the best part of being a police officer on Nantucket is the unique island community. I love the small town feel coupled with the bustling beach town setting. Being a female is a huge advantage because I am able to respond to calls for service with compassion and understanding. It has been rewarding to see the number of female officers grow over the years. It just further solidifies that women are capable of doing police work. I have found life-long friendships from within this department and look to them for support and guidance. I am encouraged, appreciated, and respected equally by my male co-workers."
Officer Farrell Duce
"It is a learning curve to be a female in a male-dominated profession but since joining NPD, I have not felt as though we as females are treated differently, or viewed differently, within the department. Everyone is very supportive and helpful when it comes to everything and anything."
Officer Angela Paterson
"The best part of being a police officer on Nantucket is working in a close knit community. At first I thought it would be difficult working on Nantucket after growing up here. But it’s refreshing to see the amount of support you receive from the community. I love being able to contribute at work, but off duty as well with coaching basketball."