BREAKING BARRIERS IN
Several decades ago it was unheard of to have a female serving as a police officer. But today its quite common, in fact the Phoenix Police Department has its first female Phoenix Police Chief, Jeri Williams.
It was not easy for those first policewomen in their early beginnings. In their early history, community members voiced concerns about incarcerated prisoners. In 1916 the Phoenix Woman’s Club organized a committee “to investigate the condition of the women’s quarter in the county and city jail.” In their report they noted that “the city jail with quarters in the basement had floor and white-washed wood walls in fairly clean conditions though the toilet was very unsanitary. No bedding but two filthy blankets was provided for each cot. A promise to obtain clean bedding was obtained.”
In the 1930 and 1940 women were mostly employed as secretaries in the police department until the late 1950’s.
This investigation would in part, years later result in the first woman to work for the Phoenix Police Department. It was reported that Ruth Melcher was hired as the Jail Matron in 1933 to work in the women’s section of the city jail at Historic City Hall at 17 South 2nd Ave. Her position was at the direct result of a request by the U.S. Marshal after a contract was agreed upon with the City of Phoenix covering the maintenance of federal prisoners.
Jail Matron Ruth Melcher’s police identification card
It was not until after WWII that the first females were sworn into the department as policewomen. Many of them served in the Juvenile and Crime Prevention Bureaus. This might have been a direct result of women who had stepped into men’s factory job to help in the war effort, since many of the men were now serving in the military and had left their jobs. By 1945 there were now three regularly commissioned female officers, Ruth Melcher, a female jail matron, and two who were assigned to the Juvenile Section where they dealt with crimes such as child molestation, abuse and rape. The first female officers on the force did not wear uniforms. Depending on the duty, plainclothes were worn most of the time. Another Jail Matron, Bernice Schick began in 1943 until becoming the first female Phoenix Police Department radio dispatcher in 1955. Mary Makaryanc (Van Doren) who began in July 2, 1945 with the assistance of the State Department, worked in the juvenile division
The Juvenile Bureau in 1948 may have had several women for secretarial duties. It would not be for another decade until women were hired as Policewomen.
To join the police department in the 1950’s, women had to be between the ages of 21-35, between 5’4” and 5’10” weigh at least 120 pounds and have a high school diploma in addition to special training. Emma groom, who joined the police department in 1956, walked a beat in downtown Phoenix, taking the job to help provide for her family while her husband was injured. She eventually became a detective. “It’s all fascinating, sometimes sad. It isn’t a job you leave behind you when you go home, but it is rewarding.” Jeanette Reed began in 1958 and was also assigned to the Juvenile Division,
Some of the very first policewomen with there gradulating class in Oct 1957.
Pat Lamson, the first Phoenix female officer to be promoted to sergeant joined in 1957 and her duties included working with schools in safety programs, speaking before students, churches and organizations of public safety, driver’s education, and public relations. She said, “The role of a policewoman is often misrepresented. There are tremendous opportunities in this field for women, and with our city expanding at such a fast pace there will be more opening in the future.” She added, “Women are naturally more adept then men at handling some situation, particularly where women and children are involved.”
Female officers at Calvin Goode Building
But with the addition of women, changes were slow to occur. The headlines in the local paper on Oct 20th, 1957 read, “Beware of the Skirts! They speak with authority.” The newspaper noted women would make an appearance on downtown streets for the first time in Phoenix’s History. The paper reported, “Two of four policewomen completed rookie training and will start directing traffic, writing tickets, and even investigation accidents according to Police Chief Charles P. Thomas.” Only two would be in uniform and they would be identical to the men except for skirts. The other two would not be in uniforms yet since their clothing had not arrived. At that time, the policewomen worked in the Juvenile Section and again as a Jail Matron. Eventually they could walk beats in the downtown district “moving along loiterers and arresting moochers and drunks.” They were instructed not to try to subdue any combative prisoner, just to advise them that they were under arrest and call for the paddy wagon. They were trained in judo for self-defense and carried service revolvers in their shoulder bags. The Police Chief planned to try them out on issuing tickets for overtime parked cars. At that time, the officers were listed as Emma Groom, Loa Gray, Laura Mc Cauley and Jeanette Reed.
On August 20th, 1972, the newspaper reported that Officer Sheila Garcia and Nikki La Barge were the first woman graduates of the Phoenix Police Academy to work as patrol officers in the Field Operations Division. “We had no idea we would be working out in the field (patrol).” Officer Garcia explained, “Usually women would wind up on the desk or in the jail. This was a bonus, because this was what police work is all about.” Garcia ended 13 weeks of training at the academy. She had previously worked the complaint desk and five years in the communications section. Garcia said she was aware that using women in patrol was only experimental. Asst. chief Joseph Pacheco said, “The women will be kept from potentially dangerous calls such as armed robberies and brawls. But they still run the risk of being at the scene of something dangerous when it occurs.” The chief added, “It’s experimental right now and we’ll have to evaluate their performance.’’ When Officer Garcia’s patrol sergeant was asked if having a woman around might change anything at the substation he replied, “The language might be a little more guarded.” Officer Garcia was hopeful that the department’s experiment with women patrol officers would be successful. “I hope it works,” she explained. “I think it would be great if this was permanent.” Other cities using women patrol officers at the time include Dallas, Indianapolis, Miami, New York, Philadelphia, Washington, and Peoria, ILL.
Officer Brenda Hill interviews a subject in the 1980’s as part of her patrol duties.
Changes continued with other ‘firsts’ such as the female officer Donnie Buenao (in 1981 or 1982) to be assigned to the Special Assignments Unit (SWAT), the first motor officer Nancy Elam, and many others including the first female Phoenix Police Chief Jeri Williams.
This video captures the special event that took place on Oct. 28th, 2016, when the City of Phoenix officially swore in Jeri Williams as their Chief of Police.
Retired Officer Emma Groom one of the first female policewomen standing with Mike Nikolin, the previous Museum curator
One of our volunteers in period dress standing next to one of our historic vehicles.
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Open Monday through Friday
Closed Saturday and Sunday
9 A.M. -3 P.M.
(Last entrance at 2:30 P.M.)
*Service dogs are welcome
closed for holidays
New Year’s Day
Martin Luther King Jr. Birthday
Cesar Chavez Birthday (March 31)
The day after Thanksgiving
17 South 2nd Avenue
Historic City Hall 1st Floor
Phoenix, AZ 85003-2202
Admission is free, but we will gladly take donations!
The Phoenix Police Museum is an IRS approved non-profit 501C3 organization. We are supported by the generous monthly payroll deduction of more than 1,700 Police and City of Phoenix employees as well as donations from individuals and businesses.
Please note that there is active road construction in the area for Light Rail, please allow yourself extra time for travel in the downtown area. There is little to no parking meters along Jefferson Street at the present time. It is highly recommended to use the City of Phoenix parking garage located at 305 West Washington Street.
Meters - Hourly Rates
Meters cost $1.50 per hour and coin-only meters cost $1 per hour.
Most meters accept credit/debit cards and coins and others only accept coins.
Pay-by-cell is also available via the Pango Mobile Parking app for credit card enabled parking meter
Time limits generally vary by location. Time limits at metered locations can range from 15 minutes to as long as 8 hours. In most areas, the maximum duration is 2 hours. The parking time limits are posted on each meter.
ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) Accessible Meters
Phoenix has several on-street accessible parking spaces throughout the downtown area. Each space is clearly marked with a special sign with the international symbol of access.
Vehicles displaying a valid ADA License Plate and/or Placard receive one hour of free parking once their parking meter has expired. Vehicles displaying a valid Purple Heart Recipient license plate also receive one free additional hour. This applies to all parking meters, not just the designated ADA Accessible parking meters. The nearest ADA paid parking meter is located just East of 2nd Avenue on Jefferson on the North side of the roadway.
305 PARKING GARAGE
The City of Phoenix parking garage is managed by Ace Parking and can be contacted at 1-888-223-7275. It does have Disable spots available and has a height restriction of vehicles of 8’2″. Wider vehicles must call ahead to make an appointment for a limited number of oversized vehicles. The cost of all parking is $4 per hour.
*We offer 1/2 off parking for visitors of the museum. Just ask for your coupon at the end of your visit*
How to get here...
From the Northwest Valley via I-17 South I-17 to I-10 East (exit 200A) Exit at 7th Avenue (exit 144A) and turn right Travel 1 mile to Jefferson Street and turn left Move to the left lane. Turn left into City Public Parking Garage between 4th and 3rd Avenues.
From the Northeast Valley via SR51 South SR51 to I-10 West Exit at 7th Avenue (exit 144A) and turn left Travel 1 mile to Jefferson Street and turn left. Move to the left lane. Turn left into City Public Parking Garage between 4th and 3rd Avenues.
From the West Valley via I-10 East Exit at 7th Avenue (exit 144A) and turn right Travel 1 mile to Jefferson Street and turn left. Move to the left lane Turn left into City Public Parking Garage between 4th and 3rd Avenues.
From the Southeast Valley via I-10 West Exit at 7th Avenue (exit 144) and turn left. Travel 1 mile to Jefferson Street and turn left. Move to the left lane. Turn left into City Public Parking Garage between 4th and 3rd Avenues.
Note: The parking garage has a second entrance on 4th Avenue between Jefferson and Washington.
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602.534.7278 or firstname.lastname@example.org
A donation of $25 is requested for groups of 10 persons or more. We require appropriate adult supervision ratio for children and special needs individuals. Normal group sizes are suggested to be no larger than 20 persons. It is best to schedule one month in advance if you are requesting a specific time and day.