Trailblazing women leading the way among TPA safety and security teams
(March 15, 2018) As the rest of the country recognizes March as Women’s History Month, Tampa International Airport’s law enforcement and public safety teams are quietly making some history of their own.
In a field largely dominated by men, the Tampa International Airport Police Department now has more female leaders and supervisors than ever before. The department also has a higher-than-average number of female officers compared to other agencies in the country, a fact Chief Charlie Vazquez is proud to tout. Next month, the agency will be welcoming the second black female officer in its history and Vazquez hopes to see even more diversity as TIAPD grows.
“On average, females make up about 11 percent of law enforcement agency staffs around the country,” Vazquez said. “We’re at about 25 percent, so double of the average. I’m pretty pleased with that and I’d like to see more of it.”
Captains Ann Walters and Teri Uno, the first two women to be promoted to that high of a rank with TIAPD, said they feel encouraged by the department’s trend to not only bring more women onto the force but to put them in positions to lead and grow.
“When I joined the Tampa International Airport Police Department in 1992, there were maybe three or four females on the staff and no female supervisors,” Uno said. “It was a different time and you definitely had to have a thick skin.”
That culture has changed, particularly over the last couple of years, and both the police department and the Airport Operations Center, which handles dispatch, have seen the benefits of having women at the helm. Shannon Boos is the first woman – and the first employee – to be promoted to a Senior Manager role in the AOC and she has made a number of positive changes to improve employee engagement.
“I’ve been in this field for 17 years and it’s always been predominately male,” said Boos, who formerly worked with the Key West, Plant City and Florida Highway Patrol law enforcement agencies. “To be a female and get into a leadership role is a huge deal.”
In public safety, female supervisors and officers bring a special component to their agencies that may have been missing when they were almost 100 percent male.
“Whether its compassion or communication, there are niches in law enforcement that together make you stronger as a department,” said Sgt. Monique Barry.
Cpl. Tammi Severin, who was one of few female officers on her team when she worked in Indiana prior to coming to TPA, said she got to see the difference in the way criminals react to male and female officers early in her career. She believes it’s to police agencies’ benefit to balance out the ratio.
“Just the mere presence of a female officer arriving at the scene can often be calming,” she said.
Vazquez agrees, though he’s quick to point out that his female officers and supervisors bring more than motherly instincts and gentle traits to his agency.
“We all bring different things to the table and these things have to complement each other,” he said. “You can’t have complete muscle on your force without having the ability to de-escalate a situation. Sometimes it’s difficult for men to see another side of things, and sometimes women are better able to deal with domestic violence victims and young children.”
Vazquez said he puts a strong emphasis on training, developing and promoting his staff, and he’s pleased some of his rising stars happen to be women.
“They’re not my leaders because they’re females,” he said. “They’re leaders that just happen to be females.”
Cpt. Walters sees TIAPD as a great place to grow and she hopes to see even more trailblazing times ahead.
“I’d like to see our first female police chief here one day,” she said. “It might happen.”