Chesterton Police Dept. Corp. Jamie Nale-Copollo | Jerry Davich~Sun-Times Media
Updated: May 15, 2014 6:08AM
Chesterton Police Cpl. Jamie Nale-Copollo knew it wouldn’t be easy working in a field dominated by men and shielded by machismo.
Her rookie year was hell, with some of the older cops taking old-school hazing to new lows. She would return from work some days seriously considering quitting the force.
“I couldn’t take it anymore with the guys bashing me every day,” she told me.
The hardscrabble hazing lingered for a few years, especially with a couple of the older officers who wouldn’t let up on her. She could’ve cried to the chief. She didn’t.
“I figured if I did that it would be like me running to daddy,” she said with a shrug. “I knew I had to get through it, so I did.”
The now-44-year-old divorced mother of two stuck it out, first for five years, then 10 years, then 15 years. This week marks her 20-year anniversary, a milestone she wasn’t sure she would ever reach.
“This job is the only thing I ever wanted to do,” she said during a break in between patrols. “I never wanted a job of sitting behind a desk in an office all day.”
When she started, she was the only female in the department and just the second woman ever on the force. “It’s tough for any rookie cop with the older guys, but it’s doubly hard for a female rookie cop,” said Larry Powell, also a Chesterton officer.
Some older generation town residents still give her a hard time.
“They tell me, ‘I’ve been driving longer than you’ve been alive,’” she said, noting that even today there is just one other woman on the town’s force.
“There’s not many female officers in any police department really,” she added.
I know only a handful of female cops across Northwest Indiana and I asked them their thoughts on riding shotgun in a male-dominated workforce.
“Being a mom and working this job can be challenging,” said Indiana State Police Sgt. Ann Wojas, who has three children, all adults now. “It’s especially hard when you first start out. Your kids are young and you work rotating shifts, holidays, being called out. You feel at times that you let your family slip through the cracks.”
Wojas has been on the ISP force 28 years and the “good ole boy” system isn’t what it used to be.
“When I first started, a lot of guys saw wanting to change your schedule or having to adjust your work time for family or kids issues was a weakness,” she said. “But now, most couples are both working and just as many of the men are taking off or readjusting their schedules.”
Don’t misunderstand her, though.
“You still have men in police work who think women shouldn’t be here, and you’re never going to change that,” she said. “But what we might lack in brute strength we make up for in the manner of approaching and talking to people.”
Then again, Wojas has no problem speaking up for herself.
“It makes no difference what job you are in, if this is what you truly want to do. Everyone sees that and knows it,” she said. “If you go to work and just go through the motions, whine, complain, expect special favors and try to pawn details off on others, it doesn’t matter if you are working with a man or woman. You have tarnished your reputation, work ethic and working relationships.”
Flora Akers-Ryan is a seven-year Portage police officer, a mother of three, and a breast cancer survivor.
“I think the biggest obstacle is getting respect from the guys in the field,” said Ryan, who’s married to a fellow Portage cop. “A woman has to prove herself to gain or earn respect from our male counterparts.”
She’s been fortunate to work with many “really great guys” who have open minds about female cops. But she also had to prove herself as reliable, accountable and respectable to earn her place as “one of the guys.”
Copollo has also earned such a status, including working other jobs to provide for her family. In addition to her 12-hour shifts as a patrol officer, she also works a few part-time security jobs.
“Whatever it takes to make ends meet,” she said.
Initially, Copollo planned on staying at Chesterton for just five years and then spring-boarding to a larger city, bigger department, more diversity and opportunities. But she got comfortable, as we all do, and her kids, ages 11 and 13, also played a factor.
Copollo tried working in the department’s detective bureau for more than a year, but she didn’t like the daily work. She missed patrolling. She missed the adrenaline rush on certain calls, though she doesn’t get as nervous or excited like in the early days.
“We get mostly thefts, robberies, domestic disturbances and traffic stops,” she said.
If she switched to another city and police department, she would lose her seniority and day-shift hours. So she is staying put for now and contemplating her future.
“For maybe another five years or so,” she said before heading off again on patrol.
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