The four women gathered around the conference room table during their lunch break from classes at the Blackhawk Technical College’s Law Enforcement Academy pondered a question about their futures in positions that have been traditionally dominated by males.
Apparently, the question didn’t come as any great surprise. They know the numbers that for all the gains women have made in law enforcement their gender still accounts for about only 12 percent of the law enforcement workforce in this country. They see it every day, too, in their 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. classes, for they are the only four women in this BTC summer session, amounting to about 17 percent of the class of 23.
Yet all four, in a manner that bespeaks volumes about their growing professionalism, demonstrate a power that goes beyond the muscle and brawn so often associated with those in the law enforcement profession
“I think I speak for all of us,’’ said Erin Johnson, “that when you decide to go into law enforcement, you look at it as a calling, as a challenge that is there to be conquered.’’
All four came to BTC with four-year degrees and a passion to take a step not often associated with women.
Johnson, 22, hails from Lincolnshire, Ill., and now lives in Madison, coming to BTC after an internship at the U.S. Marshall’s office and getting her degree at UW-Platteville.
Also joining her this day were:
n Alyssa Moehrke, 28, of Marshall, who as the oldest of the quartet is the self-proclaimed “momma bear” of the group. She received her undergraduate degree from UW-Stout before getting accepted by the Dane County Sherriff’s Department.
n Carly Siewert, 23, of Oconomowoc, who had a double major of Public Relations and Criminology at UW-Whitewater before heading to BTC on the recommendation of friends in law enforcement who said it was the best program available. She served an internship with the Wisconsin Department of Justice’s Office of Criminal Investigations.
n Tala Cornell, 21, who received a degree in Sociology from Beloit College and contemplated attending law school before diving into her first love as a trainee with the Beloit Police Department.
Their summer days – Monday through Friday with some Saturdays thrown in for good measure -- are filled in the three-phase program. In fact, each made a point of saying how much they were looking forward to their upcoming four-day Fourth of July break, a time that amounted to their only “summer vacation’’ in the program that runs through mid-September.
So in the meantime, they will be digesting lecture information on constitutional, criminal, juvenile and traffic law, as well as tactical exercises. Each phase ends with examinations that open the door to the next phase.
“To be in law enforcement today, you know you just can’t tell people what to do,’’ Moehrke said, reflecting on the knowledge gathered in classes. “You have to know what you’re doing and why you’re doing it.’’
Those words resound in an era when police actions are under the microscope of public scrutiny. It seems that hardly a day goes by when some sort of law enforcement activity escapes a very public spotlight. It’s in the light of some of these events that the women believe they can make their best contribution to serving and protecting the community.
“We have to learn to trust our training, learning all the proper techniques we are being taught,’’ Johnson said.
Those techniques go beyond the stereotype. “It’s not just the use of force,’’ said Cornell, who is exposed to real-life situations in her work with the Beloit department.
It’s the message they can send to the communities they will eventually service, something that may be enhanced by their gender.
“When you are smaller in size,’’ said Johnson, who describes herself as “short,” “you have to be able to develop your communication skills. It’s not just about the strongest person.
“I think the best thing we have to offer is that we are able to talk people through situations.’’