Capt. Michelle Henderson
When I first joined the Patrol in 1989, there were approximately 30 female troopers. None of them were in supervisory positions at that time. I recall asking myself as I entered the paramilitary environment at the Academy, “What I am I doing here?” At that time, I remember seeing all male troopers dressed in freshly pressed uniforms adorned with shiny name bars and ribbons. As I looked around the room, I did not see one smiling face. Each of the troopers, although professional at all times, made it clear we were not there to have a lot of fun. Rather, we were there to learn to be state troopers, and that was a serious matter.
Each of the troopers appeared to be in top physical condition and they all carried themselves confidently. The entire experience was exciting and intimidating at times. However, the words spoken to me so many times over the years by my parents rang loudly in my mind, “Michelle, you can do anything you set your mind to accomplish.” I took their advice to heart and always believed what they had taught me. In my mind, I knew it really did not matter that I was a short, small-stature African American female who just happened to be a single parent also. I had made up my mind that I would be a trooper!
Truthfully, while I was in the Academy, there were some days that were so rigorous both mentally and physically that I questioned myself. I wondered if I really wanted to go through with this. The thought of leaving and continuing my college engineering degree seemed a lot easier to me at that time. After all, being an astronaut for NASA was what I had always dreamed of doing. But, something inside of me told me to finish what I had started, and that was pursing this tremendous challenge I had ahead of me at that time.
It did not take much convincing, especially after I considered the responsibility I had of taking care of my sons. The trooper salary was more than I had ever earned, plus, the medical and retirement benefits along with the tuition reimbursement programs were all excellent benefits. I realized leaving my children behind while I stayed at the Academy for 26 weeks would be a tremendous challenge, but I also knew the reward and benefits of completing my training would make our lives much better in the end.
The Academy training was physically challenging for me, however, each week with the encouragement of my family I gave it my best and eventually persevered. When I finally reached the 26th week of training, it occurred to me that I had not only faced a very difficult challenge, I had actually conquered it. The time had come that I was about to embark on one of the most honorable careers a person could have: public service. During the graduation ceremony, my classmates and I stood in front of our family and friends, raised our right hands and repeated the oath to serve and protect. Finally, we too had earned the right to wear the freshly pressed uniform that we all were so impressed by on day one of the Academy training. At that point it dawned on me, finally, I was now a state trooper!
It was on that
day, I made up my mind that I wanted to be a leader in this organization.
I vowed to be an encouragement to those around me. Carrying out that vow
was not always easy. Quite frankly, working in a male dominated environment
posed some difficult times throughout the years. During that time, female
officers were not as readily accepted as they are today in law enforcement
agencies. However, the fellowship with other females and minorities who
were associated with the National Organization of Law Enforcement Executives
(NOBLE), Central States Trooper Coalition (CSTC), International Association
of Women Police (IAWP), and Ohio Women’s Law Enforcement Network
(OWLEN) was extremely instrumental in helping me develop strong leadership
qualities. I have been fortunate to have also been mentored by non-minority
officers and commanders as well. I not only feel an obligation, I have
a deep desire to mentor and help each and every person I encounter throughout
my career and everyday life.
Today I have three sons, and my husband and I often talk about how much the boys and I missed each other during theses times because of our schedule conflicts. However, we all agree the lessons we learned from our sacrifices and support for each other is invaluable.
The Ohio State Highway Patrol has a total of 1,540 uniformed law enforcement officers. Although, strides have been made in the hiring and promoting of females and minority officers there is still work to be done. Unfortunately, other than myself, there has never been another minority female promoted within the Division. However, the recruitment and retention of females and minorities is very important to the Division. Currently, we have 142 females with the following number serving in supervisory and command ranks: 1 major, 2 captains, 5 staff lieutenants, 5 lieutenants and 20 sergeants. There are currently a total of 358 minority officers, including all females. Although, we are not where we would like to be pertaining to minority recruitment, females and minorities do have more promising career opportunities today than in the past.
Ohio State Highway Patrol has made great strides over the years, we continue
to look for ways to recruit, retain and promote hard working, qualified,
energetic women and men to join us in our leadership efforts to serve
and protect. If you feel you are up to the challenge, please sign up to
join one of the finest law enforcement agencies in the country.