Theirs is a story of legacy – in law enforcement, and in equality.
Last month, retired police detective Sharon McClatchy stood atop a stage and pinned a badge on academy graduate Emily Kane – the first time in Sacramento Police Department history that a mother has passed the torch on to her daughter.
Bloodlines are not uncommon in law enforcement, of course. In both the Sacramento Police Department and the county Sheriff’s Department, dozens of families are represented in second or third generations on the force, including those of Chief Sam Somers Jr. and Undersheriff Jamie Lewis. Two of Kane’s classmates are the children of Sacramento police officers.
But many inside or familiar with the Police Department are celebrating Kane’s swearing in as another sign of progress, more than three decades after her mother and nine other women hired in the 1970s – known by some as “the Original 10” – fought hard to break the agency’s glass ceiling.
“What (Sharon McClatchy) has done is pave the road for her daughter,” said Deputy Chief Dana Matthes, the highest-ranking female officer in the agency’s history and the mother of academy graduate Christopher Jensen, whose father is retired Lt. Keith Jensen. “There were a lot of women who paved the way before us. They really were tremendous role models.”
Officer Michele Gigante, a police spokeswoman, said McClatchy and Kane are reflective of a changing cultural norm within law enforcement.
“People think ‘blue blood,’ and they think father and son. Now, that’s not the case. It could be mother-son, it could be mother-daughter, it could be father-daughter,” said Gigante, whose stepfather is a police officer. “It’s the norm now, and it’s our society that has gotten us there.”
Among those who joined Kane’s family in celebrating her graduation were Flossie Crump, Felicia Murphy and Mary Savage – three of what McClatchy calls the Original 10 women police officers – and retired Chief Jack Kearns, who hired the women in the 1970s.
The next day, Kane, 24, reflected on her childhood, her journey to join the department and the ground her mother broke.
“There are some phenomenal women in the Sacramento Police Department and other departments and those are big shoes to fill,” Kane said. “But we wouldn’t even have had those footprints if it wasn’t for (the Original 10). We wouldn’t have even had the opportunity to be here if it wasn’t for them.”
A year ago – on Christmas Eve 2012 – Kane was busing tables at a downtown restaurant when she saw a patrol car drive by. She thought to herself how much she wished she was on patrol, not cleaning up dirty dishes. A few months later, she seized an opportunity to apply for a spot in the academy. Very soon, her wish to be out on patrol will be fulfilled.
“I knew I was going to regret it if I didn’t take my shot at it, and I’ve never been more happy that I did something like that than I am right now,” Kane said. “You just get a bug – something within you just speaks to a higher calling, I suppose.”
Kane is joining a law enforcement landscape far different from the one her mother first knew. Sacramento County has its first female police chief in Folsom’s Cynthia Renaud; not too long ago, a woman was undersheriff. Women can be found in almost every rank and every division in the largest agencies. Matthes noted that last year, the sergeant overseeing her department’s SWAT team approached her, wondering how he could get a woman on the team. A female officer is now working with team members to get in the required physical shape, Matthes said.
“Today, I think it’s just an entirely different department,” she added.
Still, she and other law enforcement officials agree more progress is needed. While the Sacramento police and county Sheriff’s Department boast higher percentages of female sworn officers – 18 percent and 21 percent, respectively – than the national rate of 12 percent, they fail to reflect the general community, where women make up roughly half the population.
As the department looks to grow, Gigante said it remains a priority to recruit a diverse cross-section of applicants in terms of gender, race and ethnicity.
“Our goal is to mirror the community,” she said.
McClatchy, 58, joined the Police Department in 1978. It was the first decade in which women were graduating from the academy and immediately assuming the rank of “officer.” A few women previously had obtained the rank of “police woman” but were not allowed on patrol.
Test after test recommended law enforcement as a career for McClatchy, perhaps under the influence of her father’s time in the Air Force. But it was not a decision welcomed by him or her Filipino mother, who McClatchy said was very “Asian in her thinking.”
“It was a generational thing,” McClatchy says of her parents’ initial disapproval of a woman in law enforcement.
McClatchy said she “agreed to disagree” with her parents, and they ultimately became supportive. She got an internship at the Police Department, finished her criminal justice degree at California State University, Sacramento, and went to the academy. By and large, she was welcomed by her peers there, she said.
But there were skeptics. She learned to have a thick skin, and to “respond in kind” when confronted with sexist behavior.
Every one of those first 10 women has stories they hate to remember but will never forget, she said. One of McClatchy’s: A field training officer refused to take her on as a trainee because he wouldn’t allow a female officer in his car. Her captain refused to address the issue and simply transferred her to another training officer.
“That to me was very telling of the times. You would never see anything like that happen nowadays,” she said. “But for every one or two incidents of that nature there were so many more of really good men and women I had the great opportunity to work with and learn from.”
As for paving the way for future generations of women, McClatchy said she wasn’t conscious of that responsibility until she joined the department’s recruiting team. When she would visit local universities and field questions from curious young men and women, she began to realize her position as a role model. Later, she would come to realize that as a public servant and as a woman her actions would always be watched – a piece of advice she has since passed on to Kane.
The scrutiny that mattered most to McClatchy, though, was that of her own children, who at times would accompany her to community events or gatherings while she was in uniform. Her daughter’s interest in her mother’s work was particularly poignant, she said.
“Nothing will make a person more mindful of their role than having children looking square at them the entire time,” McClatchy said. “And nothing will make you more aware of the need to be right and honest in the world than having your own daughter right there looking very carefully at what it is that you do, how you do it, why you do it, how you say it.”
For her part, Kane said that she always knew she wanted to be a public servant, whether the field was medicine, education or criminal justice. Her parents – her father, John Kane, retired from the Sacramento Police Department as a lieutenant – instilled a desire within her to “give my time to something that was bigger than myself, something that mattered more to helping other people.” She studied communications and writing at University of California, San Diego, before returning to the Sacramento area.
Once she set her sights on a badge, she applied only to the Sacramento Police Department: “I knew this is where I wanted to be.”
McClatchy, who retired in 2001 after an injury, and her husband are proud to see the tradition of service continue in their son Ryan, 29, who is in the Air Force, and now Emily.
“I’m sitting here looking at her, thinking, ‘Last night I pinned her badge on her,’ ” McClatchy said. “I’m in awe.”