Ten women serve as officers win UTPD, making up 16 percent of the staff, and that number is higher than the national average of 13 percent among police departments nationwide.
Julie Gillespie started her career at UTPD in 1987 as a security guard after graduating from UT with an education degree.
Gillespie, now retired, worked at UTPD for 28 years in multiple positions. During her tenure, Gillespie became the first female lieutenant and the first female captain.
When Gillespie started working at UTPD, she said there were a handful of female officers and only two female sergeants.
“I remember going to training classes and staff meetings where I was the only female, but, since then, I think policing has taken a very strong part in recruiting women,” Gillespie said. “It was tough, but you have to realize we’re all the same, and everybody wants the same thing and are working toward the same goals.”
Diversity in the workplace is important regardless of the industry because it brings different perspectives to the job, according to Gillespie.
“Women bring a totally different perspective to policing,” Gillespie said. “Usually you have to have the brut and the physical strength, but women bring more intellect, and they think through things, and we’re not so quick to get into physical fights because we’re trying to use our brain instead of our strength, so it’s good to have both.”
When Gillespie left UTPD, she said 22 percent of the sworn officers were women. As more women joined the force, Gillespie said she and other female officers helped mentor them.
“All the women were kind of a tight knit-group, and I still catch up with some of the women that went on to other jobs,” Gillespie said. “I still keep in touch with them and mentor them. It’s fulfilling to mentor young officers.”
Gillespie helped mentor and welcome Lt. Laura Davis when she first came to work for UTPD. Davis started her career at UTPD after selling diamonds in a jewelry store while she was waiting for her application to be processed for the Secret Service, she said.
After meeting her husband during her training at the police academy and having a child, Davis said she decided to stay at UTPD because she liked the work she was doing.
Although female officers are a minority in the makeup of UTPD’s force, Davis said she doesn’t notice it often.
“It’s noticeable, but it’s not,” Davis said. “I’ve got several females on my shift, and so it’s funny because we don’t have many people in the locker room. You’re so used to doing your job, so you’re not really thinking about it.”
Rhetoric and writing senior Bria Moore said she has only seen female officers a few times, but, when she does see them, she notices them immediately.
“Female officers do catch my eye because they are female, and it’s still a slightly unusual thing to see,” Moore said. “This isn’t prime-time TV where every other cop is some strong-willed, independent yet always gorgeous phenom. Many workplaces are still pretty gendered.”
Besides working the evening shift, Davis is the coordinator for the Rape Aggression Defense System for UT and the rest of Texas. Putting on the three-day class allows Davis to empower other women and females on campus, she said.
“What we get to do is teach self defense to women across campus, and I’m very proud that UT is such a strong supporter in that program,” Davis said. “You know a lot of the students who come here come from a small town, and they’re meeting new friends and having their experiences, but what we’ve said is we believe in this program so much we want to teach self defense so they can rely on themselves and feel safe on campus.”
Davis said she started teaching the class in 2001 and said she enjoys helping other women protect themselves.
“In those three days, you see a true reliance on themselves that they didn’t know they had, and it’s just life-changing,” Davis said. “You may get a girl who’s never said no, and then on that third night, she’s in a situation where she has to fight her way out, and you see this change, and she’s very proud. It’s not that see didn’t have that in her before, but it’s just a different aspect.”