Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

May 20, 2013

“We’re all in it together”

Peru’s first female police chief says gender doesn’t matter

By Carson Gerber
Tribune staff writer

Peru — Peru Police Chief Jonie Kennedy said as a kid she loved baseball, and the fact that it was a sport for boys didn’t stop her from playing it.

“I played baseball at a time when girls didn’t really do that,” she said. “I never looked at it as a boy or girl thing. To me, it was just what I wanted to do. I thought, ‘This is what I want to do, and I’m going to do it.’”

By the time she was a Little League player in Kokomo, Kennedy had made it onto one of the elite major league teams. She was only the second girl to ever do that in the League’s history.

Kennedy recently joined another elite group after she was appointed Peru police chief in April.

Out of the nearly 450 municipal police departments in the state, she’s now just one of around seven female chiefs.

She’s also the first female police chief in the history of the department.

Other cities with female chiefs include Bluffton, Rochester, Nappanee and Greensburg, according to the Indiana Association of Cities and Towns. Burlington and Pittsboro also have female town marshals.

Kennedy said it was the same gender-blind philosophy she had as a kid that made it easy for her to get into law enforcement. Just like in baseball, she said the fact that police departments are dominated by men didn’t stop her from joining one.

And that’s something the 45-year-old chief said she knew she wanted to do ever since she was 3 years old.

“For as long as I can remember, I wanted to be a police officer,” Kennedy said. “I remember putting together a police-themed puzzle when I was three and saying, ‘I want to be a police officer.’”

“To see a police officer in uniform or a police car, it just created a sense of respect in me,” she said. “I don’t why, but seeing them drove me to become one. Police officers were fascinating to me.”

It also helped that her stepfather served as a patrol officer in the police department in Kokomo, where Kennedy was born and raised. She graduated from Kokomo High School in 1986.

But it wasn’t until 1997 that Kennedy decided to go after a law enforcement job. She said she married a military man right after high school, and put her dream on the back burner while she started a family.

“I put all my career goals on hold after I got married and had a family,” she said. “I wanted to have my kids and be at home with them.”

When Kennedy was 29 years old, she applied at the Peru department, landed a job and got shipped off to the police academy for 12 weeks. After that, she started working the graveyard shift as a patrol officer.

During that time, Kennedy said she never felt like she was treated differently for being a woman.

“When you’re in a police environment, everybody associates with each other as officers,” she said. “It’s not girls here and guys there. We’re all in it together. I’m sure in the beginning when women were first hired as officers, they had a lot of challenges. But today, women get the respect they deserve.”

Despite that, Kennedy said she still felt she needed to go above and beyond the call of duty to prove herself in the department. That’s something she said she did pretty fast working the night shift.

“I think I immediately established a good rapport with the officers I worked with,” she said. “I proved that I wasn’t afraid to fight if I had to and that I could get the job done.”

Over the next 16 years, Kennedy worked her way through the ranks in the department, first becoming a detective, then lieutenant and then assistant police chief in 2011.

She was appointed the head of the department after the previous chief unexpectedly resigned.

“I feel very proud to be chief of police, and that’d be the case whether I was male or female,” she said. “It’s an accomplishment not a lot of people can claim.”

Kennedy said she liked the new challenges each position came with, but it was that first midnight patrol job she enjoyed the most.

“I’ve always wanted to be a leader, but I can’t say becoming a chief was ever really my goal,” she said. “I loved working patrol. It’s the meat and potatoes of this department. You’re one-on-one dealing with situations minute by minute, and I loved it. I loved the adventure of it.”

“But I’ve been given opportunities throughout the years, and I’ve taken advantage of them,” she said. “And here I am.”

And now that Kennedy’s there, she said she plans to make the department and its 28 officers a more integral part of the community.

“I want us to get out into the community and be open with people,” she said. “I want our officers to have a good rapport. We work for the citizens of this community, and I want us to be professional and a part of this town.”

That’s really what got Kennedy into law enforcement in the first place — the chance to be a part of a community and offer assistance and safety to neighbors and friends.

“To know that you can help people in need — that was my whole reason for becoming an officer,” she said. “I’m a very sensitive person. People will laugh when they hear that. But I truly am. I care about people. Parts of the job can be tough to deal with, but you focus on what you’re doing and what you can do to help. That’s what keeps you going.”

Carson Gerber can be reached at 765-854-6739, or by email at carson.gerber@kokomotribune.com.