Alumna Becomes Local Police Department’s First Black Woman to Hold Position of Rank
By: Nick Santangelo
Being the first to accomplish something means not just doing something great for yourself, but paving the way for others to follow in your footsteps. For former criminal justice major Laina Stevens, CLA ’04, that’s exactly what happened when she became the first African American woman to be given a position of rank at Pennsylvania’s Upper Darby Police Department last October.
“I'm glad that I can be an inspiration for other people, especially the youth that I come in contact with while I'm doing my job,” says Sergeant Laina Stevens. “As part of my job, I’m a guest speaker in health classes at the middle school, so I speak to sixth, seventh and eighth graders. And just walking into the school and them being able to see a person in authority that looks like them, it hopefully gives them aspirations to pursue whatever profession they want to do. They know they can do it.”
The Power of Inspiration
The promotion meant even more to Stevens when Philadelphia recently hired Danielle Outlaw, a black woman, to be the city’s new chief of police. She’s still getting used to being seen as an inspiration for young, black women, but the impact of Stevens’ own promotion throughout that community resonated stronger with her once she saw Philadelphia hire Outlaw.
The actual job itself is also something Stevens is still getting used to. But she calls Upper Darby a great police force to work for, one that allows her to be creative with the local community. For instance, Stevens is a member of the International Council of Women in Law Enforcement and is developing a Public Safety Summit for Girls. The event will showcase public safety professions for 11-18 year-old girls on Saturday, Apr. 25 at Upper Darby’s Beverly Hills Middle School.
Stevens credits her Temple University College of Liberal Arts (CLA) education with inspiring her to host the event.
“I enjoyed my time at Temple University because I was able to find myself,” she explains. “The classes helped me hone my public speaking abilities and nurtured my confidence in myself. Not only did I find a career, but I found my husband and partner who also nurtures my dreams.
“Going to college was something that was instilled in me at a young age. Unfortunately, this profession has shown me that my upbringing is not the norm and that some families do not nurture their children's interests. My hope is that this event will provide the young ladies with options that they may not have known existed.”
Stevens found out about many of those options through her education and the man who would become her husband, whom she met on campus and married her junior year. Working in probation earlier in her career, earning a master’s degree in criminal justice and being surrounded by police officers at work and at home inspired her to get into the profession herself.
Intro to Opportunity
Her fascination with criminal justice started all the way back in seventh grade when Stevens played the judge in a mock trial at school. Though she first planned to study history at CLA, Stevens changed her mind after taking Introduction to Criminal Justice. While still a criminal justice student, she began working in a juvenile delinquent program.
“I've had the opportunity to see the rehabilitative side of the system with juveniles and then how adults go through the system,” she recalls of her early career. “So I have more information, I'm able to answer more questions for people who have contact with the system, and they have no idea what's going on because it really is complex, and it can be scary.
“My education provided the information I need to be able to do that. And what I enjoyed at Temple was all the different conversations we had about the system and how to make it better, which is not an easy thing to do. Our system is flawed, but we're trying to make it better.”
One way to make it better is to increase representation. Stevens says she valued the diversity of students on campus when she was at CLA. She has some advice for how today’s black female students can follow the trail she’s blazed and continue diversifying positions of rank within police forces.
“Take advantage of all the resources that are out there. When I was at Temple, I was told about the internships that I could do as part of the curriculum, but I didn't take advantage of it partly because I was working full time. But I wish I had done an internship at a police department or at the probation department, so I could really get a feel for what the job was about before deciding where to go in my career.
“Also, stick to your goals. When I first came into Temple, my goal was to do the study abroad program. I really wish that I had taken advantage of it because it's not something that I can necessarily do now. College is the perfect time for people to do what they want.”
For more information on internships available to College of Liberal Arts students, contact the Joyce K. Salzberg Center for Professional Development. It’s never to early to start planning your future!