This is the third in a series of articles written to commemorate Black History Month, and will provide a glimpse of the often-overlooked contributions of Black women in law enforcement.
The presence of Black women in law enforcement has not been thoroughly recorded. There are tales of Black women who were law enforcement officers in the Wild West who reportedly worked the cow towns and brought criminals to justice. But the following women’s stories illustrate some contributions in the past and the present.
Georgia Ann Robinson
The first known Black female police officer in the United States was Georgia Ann Robinson. Born May 12, 1879, Officer Robinson joined the agency as a volunteer in 1916, after previously being active in community affairs, including her local NAACP branch. Officer Robinson was appointed an officer and community worker by the Los Angeles Police Department in 1919, and she was assigned to juvenile and homicide cases, primarily. Her work included referring woman and girls to social agencies. This work lead to the founding of the Sojourner Truth Home, a shelter for women and girls.
Her career prematurely ended when she lost her sight after being injured by a prisoner, but she continued her community activism. She was married and the mother of one daughter, Marian. She died September 21, 1961.
The evolution of Black women in law enforcement continued. Black women have continued to join the ranks of law enforcement agencies across the country, and have ascended the ranks to lead police agencies in Georgia, Texas, California and in our “Sunshine State” of Florida.
Valdez ‘Val’ Demings was born March 12, 1957 in Jacksonville, Florida. She one of seven children raised by her mother, a maid, and her father, a janitor. From those beginnings, she went on to graduate from Florida State University with a degree in criminology.
She returned to Jacksonville and began a career as a social worker, but she knew she wanted to be a law enforcement officer. She moved to Orlando and joined the police department. While in the academy, she was elected class president.
She continued to advance through ranks of the agency, and became the first woman to lead the Orlando Police Department after being named Chief in December 2007. She retired on June 1, 2011 after serving 27 years, but her service to community and country didn’t stop there. She was elected to the United States House of Representatives in Florida’s 10th Congressional District in 2012.
Most recently, she has been seen as a vocal member of the House of Representatives, and she served as an Impeachment Manager in the impeachment proceedings of Donald Trump.
Looking to the Future
The presence of Black women in law enforcement is growing. The National Organization of Black Women (NOBWLE) is devoted to the mission of the hiring and retaining Black women in law enforcement.
Black women are members and leaders of law enforcement agencies at the state and federal levels, as well. With a strong history of service and commitment, Black women have proven they are valued members of our law enforcement community and society as a whole.