Middletown Police Chief Rodney Muterspaw has a message for those concerned about his department’s recent hiring of female officers: Get over it and welcome to 2018.
In a post on the department’s Facebook page, Muterspaw said a retired police officer from “back in the day” was critical about the number of female officers on the force. Middletown has 70 police officers and 13, or 19 percent, are females. The national average of female police officers in the U.S. is between 6 to 8 percent, according to the Bureau of Justice.
Middletown hired its first female police officer in the 1960s, and there were seven females on the force in 2012.
In six years, the number of females has nearly doubled. Because of the increased female presence on the force, the locker rooms had to be remodeled, Muterspaw noted.
Muterspaw, who has two daughters, said he understands the obstacles some women face in the workforce, and he’s making no apologizes about his hiring practices. He looks at an applicant’s qualifications long before their gender, he said. He grades them not on whether they’re a M or F.
“I really hire the best candidate,” he said. “I don’t hire the most qualified male or female. I hire based on one thing: are they better than the other candidates? I’m a big believer in equal opportunity, not a believer in equal outcome because outcome is what you make out of that opportunity.”
Several Middletown female officers are making the most out of that opportunity. Maj. Leanne Hood is second in command. Last year’s City Employee of the Year, as voted on by the 400 employees, is a female officer, Sheoki Reece. And two of the last five Police Officer of the Year winners, as voted by their peers, are females, Robyn Rawlins and Holly Owens.
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“That tells you a lot about how we accept that,” the chief said about an officer’s gender. “I don’t even hesitate when it’s time to assign something whether they’re male or female. They can do the job and they can do it well.”
Jessica Payne, 28, a 2008 Lakota East High School graduate, is one of the department’s recent hires. She worked as an equine science teacher for five years, then was laid off.
It was time for a career change
“Now or never,” she said.
So in the summer of 2015, Payne enrolled in the Police Academy. There were 24 cadets, four females, she said.
When Muterspaw was in the academy, two of the 40 cadets were female.
“I know they lived a hard life in the academy because of the grief they got,” he said. “It was a different era then. When I hear retired people talk about the number of females we have hired, I get a little offended by it. “
Payne was hired two years ago and now works the 3-to-11 shift with two other female officers.
Female officers do “a better job” than male officers when it comes to communicating with the public, Muterspaw said.
“Men are quick to put their hands on people. I was one of them,” he said. “You tend to use your size. Female officers are great about talking people down and that’s invaluable. They are better with people. This job in 2018 is about communicating and not about physical size. You need people to communicate and our female officers excel at it.”
Payne, who said her parents “fully support” her police profession, said female officers have to “work a little harder” to prove they can keep up with their male partners.
“But once they understand you’re there and you are going to cover them and back them up, you get that respect,” she said. “We may be a little weaker physically, but there are other qualities that we have. We may not go hands-on as quick. We might be able to talk somebody down.”
As Payne was being interviewed, Muterspaw sat back in his chair and a smile crossed his face. He looked like a proud father, the same way he hopes someone will admire his daughters’ accomplishments.
And the chief has one more message for anyone stuck in 1956: “Accept change. It is what it is and you can’t stop it. You have to move with the times or get left behind. You got to get out of the way if you can’t accept it.”