Trailblazers: Three new hires help increase diversity at sheriff's office (2024)

Editor's note: This is the first story in a three-part series.

Trailblazers: Three new hires help increase diversity at sheriff's office (1)

Hannah Dorsey, Brooke Schiets and Kalin Widman are breaking the mold of what traditional law enforcement offices look like in a profession that has been dominated by white male employees for decades.

Following several high-profile police-involved shootings across the nation, there were outcries for reform for a profession dominated by white males.

The three women recently were hired by Chris Hilton, Sandusky County sheriff, as he and many other departments in Ohio are looking to diversify their law enforcement agencies.

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The number of women in law enforcement national is woefully low, with women making up less than 13% of the total population of officers, according to a 2019 National Institute of Justice Report.

To combat a lack of diversity in policing, in 2015 theU.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Equal Opportunity Commission launched Advancing Diversity in Law Enforcement.

While diverse hiring is not new to the department, Hilton said the three women now patrolling roads is the most the agency ever has had at one time.

Early test

During one of her first days as a road deputy, Widman was put to the test during a call regarding drug abuse.

The rookie officer was fresh from the academy, but ready to take on challenges.

When she responded to a call about an aggressive man,she said because she was a woman, she was treated differently by a woman who was with the man. The woman saidthe man would become even more aggressive due to Widman being a female officer.

Widman did not back down, and quickly realized she needed to assert herself in the situation.

She was able to take the man to the ground, eventually deescalating the situation. While she prefers talking to becoming physical with a suspect, Widman used her experience from the academy, where she did the same physical fitness standard test as the men in her class. She was good as anyone in the class, male or female. She met those same standards in partbecause she wanted to make sure larger or stronger male counterparts would be able to trust her to have their back in the field.

Starting in the jail, Schiets said she was able to get to know many suspects, and that led to better relationships if she were to deal with them as a newly minted road deputy.

She said treating people with respect in the jail goes a long way toward making things easier when dealing with the same or new suspects in the field.

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Shut down

Elmore nativeDorsey, a graduate of Woodmore High School, began dispatching at age 19 for the Sandusky County Sheriff’s Office.

While in college, Dorsey said, she was unsure of what she wanted to do for a career.

“I guess I always wanted to get into law enforcement, but I didn’t feel like I could,” Dorsey said. “I didn’t really know anybody in law enforcement; I didn’t feel like, I guess like it was a reachable goal.”

Dorsey said growing up she didn’t see many female police officers, and becoming an officer was not something she believed she could accomplish.

But after working as a dispatcher for more than five years, that changed.

Hilton said Dorsey is the only one of the three new female hires who was not initially hired by his administration, though Dorsey’s recent promotion to road deputy comes under Hilton’s command.

A year after being hired as a dispatcher, Dorsey said, she expressed interest in becoming a corrections officer for the jail under former Sheriff Kyle Overmyer and Chief Deputy Bruce Hirt.

But Dorsey said she was “shut down” after expressing interest and told she was too valuable as a dispatcher to leave the post and ascend in the department.

Dorsey said she is unsure whether she was shut down for promotion due to being a woman, but it was “how things” were back then. Many white male counterparts were not denied a move up the ladder.

In October 2019, under Hilton’s command, Dorsey again expressed interest in moving up in the department.

“The only reason I was able to leave dispatch is because he and the chief (Ed Hastings) put faith in me, to let me come to the jail,” Dorsey said.

Dorsey entered the Sandusky Adult Career Center’s police academy in September 2020. A year later, she joined the Sheriff’s Office and is now a road deputy.

Hilton said Dorsey proved herself, cutting her teeth in dispatch and the jail, and although he agrees she was a valuable dispatcher, he said he has no doubt she will be as valuable patrolling the roads of Sandusky County and moving up the hierarchy of the sheriff’s office.

“When you have someone who’s an exceptional employee and a good person on top of that, you try to push them towardtheir goals,” Hilton said. “We had to pull them out of her, but she had goals."

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Goals and ambition

In a job like policing, Hilton said, a person must have ambition and goals, because theprofession is not just a job— it’s a career these women likely will be doing for the next 25-30 years.

For women in the workplace, ambition and goals are always there, but oftentimes they are met by the glass ceiling, an often cruel reality that leaves many women in lesser-paying positions, able to see those top jobs around them go to white males.

Trailblazers: Three new hires help increase diversity at sheriff's office (2)

Hilton wants all his staff to set lofty goals, saying there is no reason Dorsey or any of the other new hires can't become sheriff eventually if that is their goal.

Schiets was another corrections officer who looked to becoming aroad deputy.

Hilton said Schiets showed the work ethic and skills takes to make a good officer.

Widman began as an intern from Bowling Green State University, where she majored in criminal justice.

Colleges have become a feeder system into the hiring pipeline for the Sandusky County Sheriff’s Office, Hilton said.

Hilton said Widman dove headfirst into her 480-hour internship, learning the jail, records department, road deputy and even the financial side of running the county’s largest police agency.

“She showed interest and desire to learn it … that kind of interest from a 20-something is hard to find,” Hilton said.

Pipeline for recruiting new deputies

Getting college interns has allowed Hilton to pluck them from the programs to get the intern credits the students need while allowing them to have a ready-made job right out of college and for Hilton to better fill the department’s openings.

Being an up-and-coming officer and a woman put all three officers in demand by many area departments. Hilton said each one had about 20 job opportunities. Hilton said he was lucky to get all three.

One of the issues departments face is a lownumber of minority applicants for the job.

Jim Bond, an instructor at EHOVE’s police academy, said about 10% of a class is made up of minority candidates.

Classes at smaller academies such as EHOVE or Terra Statemay have between 10-15 students. But not all of them will graduate.

If there are 10 students, there may only be one minority in theclass, making it challenging to fill the ranks with a diverse population.

Feeling accepted

Dorsey and Schiets were in the same class in Sandusky’s academy, which allows for students to continue working while attending school, but in turn pushing a normal 20-week program into a more spread out nine-month journey to certification.

“I was honestly taken aback,” Dorsey said of how she was treated.

In her class of 13, Dorsey said there were more females than males. And by the end of the nine months, only one man was left after attrition and ended up passing the class to become certified.

Times have changed for diversity. Hilton said in 1995 when he went through the exact same Sandusky academy, there were two females in a class of about 25.

“To hear them say they were supported, it was not the same way,” Hilton said of how women were treated during his academy training. “Neither of them went on to become a police officer. They both graduated. … I personally think it had a lot to do with the ‘Do we really want a bunch of women in law enforcement.’ That was still a prevailing attitude.”

The attitude has shifted for many leaders in law enforcement. Hiltonsaid the goal is to make his office look more like the county it serves, one that is diverse with women and people of color.

Hilton said one of the issues law enforcement faces is trying to recruit more minorities to enter the academy.

The stigma of recent issues of police brutality dominating the headlines has not helped, but Hilton said being an officer is a profession people must want to do— no matter their age, race or gender.

“I think its incumbent upon us and colleges to recruit those kinds of people,” Hilton said.

While it may be easier for larger cities such as Toledo, Cleveland and Columbus to diversify their academies and their police forces with minorities, smaller rural law enforcement agencies do not always have that advantage.

Enhancing diversity

Hilton would argue, though, the percentage of diverse officers is similar in his department to the bigger cities, saying his three female road deputies make up 17% of his road patrol staff, along with others in the agencymadeup of minorities.

Even more than getting minorities on the road, Hilton said he wants to see more diversity throughout the department and see more minority detectives, sergeants, captains and leadership, citing three female sheriffs out of Ohio’s 88 counties.

“There is still that stigma that they can’t get those jobs, but I think it’s less prevalent,” Hilton said.

And those opportunities fall in line with a growing number of minorities reported during the 2020 census.

Although the total population fell, there was an increases in the number of minorities living in Sandusky County.

Hispanic or Latino, which makeup the county's largest minority population, saw an increase of 11.4%, from 5,435 in 2010 to 6,055 in the 2020 census release.

The number of Black residents increased by 10.2%, going from 1,712 in 2010 to 1,886 in the 2020 census.

The biggest rise in population came from those reporting two or more races, with a 172.7% hike in population, going from 1,595 in 2010to 4,349 in 2020.

Percentage-wise, the American Indian population saw the largest growth of 49.2%, with numbers rising from 132 in 2010 to 197 in 2020.

The Asian population grew by 6.9%, with 2020 data reporting 202 living in Sandusky County, compared to 2010 data that showed 189. Pacific Islander also saw a modest increase, going from seven in 2010 to eight in 2020.

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'Girls need to see us'

Much like departments use their K9 and handler to demonstrate the need for police dogs, Hilton is promoting his diversity, not just in the community while they are policing, but taking his three new hires to the Sandusky County Fair, so when young girls walked by the tent they could see someone who looked like them in a profession they may never have realized could be possible.

“I think girls need to see us,” Dorsey said. “If they see us in the public, I think it will encourage them.”

Widman said a minute of her time could mean a lifetime for them.

Often policing is in the family, or young white men grow up interacting with officers who look like them and they get the spark to enter law enforcement when they are eligible.

It’s not uncommon, but it is rare to get a spark as a young adult to pursue a career in law enforcement, but thankfully for future officers and minorities who maybe develop the love for the profession later in life, they can look at Hilton as an example getting a later start.

Hilton was a teacher, eventually having the “aha” moment in his mid-20s that he wanted to help people through law enforcement. The three new female members of his staff can relate, looking to pursue the profession into their post-high school ages.

Another way Hilton is looking to diversify his ranks is using the National Testing Network, which pairsofficers with jobs across the country. Hilton said the Fremont Police Department uses the service and he is looking into using the network to cast a wider net for applicants to continue his goal of get the best, most diverse candidates for his agency.

It is another tool Hilton said he is looking at to try and “do better” when it comes to finding quality candidatesfrom diverse backgrounds.


Twitter: @CraigShoupN

Trailblazers: Three new hires help increase diversity at sheriff's office (2024)
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