The changing face of Utah law enforcement

Local News

OGDEN, Utah (ABC4) — According to the FBI’s latest data, about 13 percent of full-time law enforcement officers are women across the United States. That is slowly changing as more women join the force. Five female deputies in Weber County sat down with ABC4 to discuss what it’s like working in a male-dominated field, why they love their job, what they hope to see in the future, and how having women on the force improves policing.    

When you think of a corrections officer, do you imagine a man? At the Weber County Jail, the vast majority of officers fit that male image. However, it’s slowly changing. “There’re 15 of us usually in housing,” Deputy Sierra Thornock told ACB4. “Of those 15, only three are females.”  

“There’s definitely been some hard times, but I can’t complain,” Corporal Jessica Bickle stated. “I love my job.”  

For Bickle, working in law enforcement is something that runs in her family. You could say her blood runs blue. “I have an uncle who actually used to work patrol here at the county and then I have a grandfather who, way back in the day, worked in search and rescue for the county as well,” she said. While Bickle comes from a family with roots in law enforcement, she is the first woman in the family to put on a badge. She said her family was uneasy with it at first but have continued to support her throughout her career.  

For others, like Corporal Jamie Toone, it wasn’t family ties but first-hand experiences that led them to becoming part of the WCSO family. “Since I got my first speeding ticket,” Toone chuckled. She told ABC4 she was 16 when this happened, and it was a sheriff’s deputy who wrote her the ticket. She explained that from that day on, she knew she’d work for the sheriff’s office.  

Regardless of how they became interested in serving and protecting, all five of the officers who sat down with ABC4 had something in common: love for their job and the people they serve.   

“If I was the inmate, I’d expect to be treated the way I treat these guys,” Toone stated. “So, I’m always considered a ‘hug-a-thug.’ That’s just me. I always treat them nice.” Toone explained that hug-a-thug is considered a derogatory term for correctional officers. However, she said it is a title she wears with pride.  

Deputy Sierra Thornock also prides herself in her ability to connect to those who are spending time in jail. “I told one girl. I said, ‘I’m going to say this the nicest way possible. I never want to see your face in the facility again.’ It’s been three months. The last time I heard, she’s still clean.” Thornock told ABC4 she ran into the woman months after her release, and they had a good conversation. In that conversation, Thornock said the woman told her that the tough love she gave is what ultimately led the woman to getting clean.  

While they love their job, all the officers explained that being a female working in law enforcement does present some challenges.   

Corporal Jennifer Luca expanded on that saying, “There’re times that we, as females, have to be more assertive in certain situations because of that presence. We’re smaller figured, we’re not as loud verbally, vocally.” She explained that some of the men in jail, or out on patrol, will try to use a female deputy’s small size to intimidate her. However, she said the male officers are always happy to step in and help when needed.   

While being a woman can present some challenges, being a woman in this field is also beneficial.

“We have a lot of mentally ill individuals who we deal with, so it takes a bit more patience in talking with them as if they are a three or five-year-old so that they understand what’s going on, you know, what’s going to happen next so that they don’t act out and they don’t get overwhelmed,” Detective Cheyann Fisher told ABC4. She, as well as all the other officers, hit hard on this idea. They said female officers are often able to empathize with those they serve.

They explained that this often helps deescalate situations. Corporal Luca added: “That also helps with compliance from them. ‘Oh hey, Luca! It’s nice to see you. I’m so glad it’s you here and not somebody else.’ So, then they behave for us, and they cooperate with us and that’s beneficial to both of us.”  

 While being in law enforcement is often hard, each officer explained that little moments make it worth it. For Deputy Thornock, one of those moments took place early on in her career when she ran to the store in full uniform before heading home for the night. “This little kid came up to me and said, ‘Mommy, she has a gun.’ And there’s two ways people can take that in the world: Some kids see cops as being the bad guys. Some kids see cops as their superheroes. I like being the superhero, and he shook my hand, and it was honestly the best day of my life.” 

Male leaders at the sheriff’s office told ABC4 having women of the force is changing the way policing is done in the community. They said that change it for the better. They encouraged women who are thinking about going into law enforcement to reach out to their local agency to learn more. Detective Fisher said the old saying “brothers in blue” is just as true when it comes to “sisters in blue.”  

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