Milford police sign ‘30x30’ pledge to hire more women

Milford Police Officers Nikki McMahon, left, and Kathleen Bruno pose in front of police headquarters, in Milford, Conn. April 5, 2021.

Milford Police Officers Nikki McMahon, left, and Kathleen Bruno pose in front of police headquarters, in Milford, Conn. April 5, 2021.

Ned Gerard / Hearst Connecticut Media

MILFORD — As a woman in law enforcement, Milford Police Officer Nikki McMahon says there is a sense that she constantly has to prove her physical strength.

She said she prefers to show the strength of her compassion.

“Out of all the tools on my belt, the greatest one is compassion,” she said. “When I pull up at a scene and a mom is having the worst day of her life because maybe she’s been a victim of a crime or she can’t get in touch with her 12-year-old daughter, and I can tell her, “I’ve got two babies. I know.’”

McMahon’s experience is not unique, which is why the Milford Police Department has joined a small but growing list of police departments that have pledged to hire more women.

By signing on to what is known as the 30x30 Pledge, Milford police have joined about 35 other agencies, including the 36,000-officer New York Police Department, in advancing women in policing. The ultimate goal is to have 30 percent of incoming police recruits be women by the year 2030.

“This pledge means that Milford Police Department is actively working toward improving the representation and experiences of women officers in our agency” said Milford Police Chief Keith Mello. “We are honored to be among the first in the nation to make this critical commitment, and we look forward to working with and learning from agencies across the country who share our priority.”

According to the Milford police department, there are currently 17 women working as police officers in the city, with five more currently in the process of being hired.

When those five join the force, 22 of the department’s 116 officers will be women. At 19 percent, that puts Milford well on the way to achieving the 30 percent goal, and well ahead of the national average, according to Capt. Garon DelMonte.

“Currently, women make up only 12 percent of sworn officers and 3 percent of police leadership in the U.S.,” he said. “This under-representation of women in policing has significant public safety implications.”

The safety implications become more clear when looking at police research, DelMonte said. Women police officers use less force, are less likely to be named in complaints or lawsuits, are perceived as more compassionate and see better outcomes for crime victims, especially in sexual assault cases, he said.

Detective Kathleen Bruno, who has been with Milford police since 2014, says she has personally witnessed the difference when she has arrived at a scene and a suspect, seemingly primed for a fight, has second thoughts.

“On patrol it’s definitely a different reaction,” she said. “You can tell they are judging me differently. They think of their mother or their sister.”

Bruno, who works in special investigations with victims of sexual crimes, said she also feels that the predominantly female victims relate better to her than to male officers.

“I feel like I’m able to make a better connection with people in those kinds of crimes,” she said.

McMahon, a school resource officer at Harborside Middle School who joined Milford police eight years ago, said middle school girls have an easier time talking to her. But sometimes, so do middle school boys and, sometimes, adult men.

“It’s the nature of our job that we see people on their worst days and when they’re at their most vulnerable,” McMahon said. “And sometimes the guy who would never want to get teary-eyed in front of another man will tell me what they’re feeling, or why they’re upset.”

But as far as women police officers have come in the field, socially, there are still some tricky situations. Both McMahon and Bruno said women in law enforcement learn to skirt the issue of their jobs on first dates.

Bruno said she would reply to the “So, what do you do?”’ question by casually saying she worked for the city to give a truthful but vague answer.

“My boyfriend found out what I do when I had to go in and work an overnight shift,” she said. “He said, ‘Who goes into work now?’ He really didn’t know. By then I trusted him, though, so it was OK.”

McMahon, who is married with two young children, could conceivably have truthfully answered “I work in a school.”

Whatever her answer though, she said it wouldn’t have been “I’m a cop.”

“Well, maybe if I wanted to scare him off,” she said.

Both also said their families had been supportive of their decision to go into police work, although their mothers still worried about their safety.

According to Mello, having more women in law enforcement can only benefit communities.

“Women represent more than half of the population. It only makes sense that your police department should reflect that demographic,” he said.

Mello said he is confident Milford can achieve its 30x30 goal, especially with role models like Bruno and McMahon, and others like Officer First Class Emily Sopchak, who is also a chief petty officer in the U.S. Navy Reserve.

“That was the whole reason we wanted to highlight this pledge — to set the example for young girls and that law enforcement is a place where they can have a successful career,” he said.