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Keynote Remarks at the 2015 Women in Policing Conference: “Women in the NYPD: Hear Them Roar”

Chair Mary Jo White

New York, New York

Oct. 20, 2015

Thank you Rikki [Klieman], for that terrific introduction.  There is no place that I would rather be than in New York speaking at your Women in Policing Conference, “Women Inspiring Women.”  There is no institution I admire more than the NYPD, and it is also a special privilege to join Commissioner Bill Bratton at this event.  I worked very closely with Commissioner Bratton when I was the U.S. Attorney, and we all owe him a tremendous debt of gratitude for his leadership and service to this City.  I also want to thank Rikki Klieman for her support of the Commissioner’s service and for her own dedication to overarching and important causes for women and children and acknowledge her extraordinary public-minded career as a renowned trial lawyer, TV commentator, author, actress, and teacher.

The story of women in the NYPD is both impressive and heroic.  But it is also a story, like in many other male-dominated workplaces, where there is more to be written and achieved.  Having strong, skilled members and leaders of the NYPD, both women and men, who know their communities and the pressures of everyday life, is critical to protecting our City and everyone in it.  The unique perspectives and experiences of women are essential to achieving that goal.  “One City, Safe and Fair–Everywhere for Everyone,” means NYPD women in numbers serving our entire City.

As a woman in law enforcement, I have witnessed both the triumphs and challenges of women in policing.  We are all rightly impatient for greater representation of women in the NYPD, including in the senior leadership ranks.  For make no mistake, women in all positions in numbers, including one day—in Commissioner Bratton’s shoes—is necessary to maintain the strength of the NYPD.  In aspiring to greater representation and more positions of leadership, it is important to remember that we are building that future progress on an extraordinarily strong tradition of women in the NYPD.

The famous author Rudyard Kipling said: “If history were taught in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten.”  So, I would like to share a few stories this morning—some of yours, some of mine, to explain who we are, where we come from, what has shaped us and where we may be going.  I will begin by sharing a few stories that have come from within your ranks—the ranks of some of the finest, most courageous people there are.

Your story, the story of the women of the NYPD, begins in 1845 when the first women were employed as jail matrons.  By 1918, the year my mother was born, six policewomen had been appointed to the force, and the next year, the first African-American woman joined the NYPD.[1]  By 1934, you were allowed to have pistol practice with the male officers.  Then in 1965, Felicia Shpritzer and Gertrude Schimmel became the first women sergeants.  Gertrude “Gertie” Schimmel would go on to be named the first female chief of the NYPD in 1978—more than 130 years after the founding of the Department.

It is hard for us to imagine how difficult it must have been for those early women to rise in the ranks of the NYPD, when we know that the challenges continue to today after nearly a century’s worth of work.  In 2015, women make up almost 35 percent of the NYPD and 17 percent of the uniformed force. (17 percent by the way, was the percentage of women in my class when I graduated from Columbia Law School in 1974; it is now about 50 percent.)  This past August, NYPD Deputy Chief Kim Royster was promoted to Assistant Chief, the highest uniformed rank in NYPD history for an African-American woman.  Joanne Jaffe is a three-star chief and the highest-ranking female in the Department.  Edna Wells-Handy, now Counsel to the Commissioner, is the highest civilian female.  I have known Edna for over 35 years as an extraordinary role model for professional women.  All of these milestones represent tremendous progress.

Still, police work remains male-dominated, the brass-ceiling proving hard to shatter.  But it has been cracked and Chief Gertie Schimmel’s story doing that is worth repeating.  The daughter of Austrian immigrants, Schimmel joined the department in 1940, when female officers were not allowed out on patrol but were issued a black shoulder bag.  The bag contained not only a holster for the women’s revolvers, but also a makeup kit that included a red lipstick.  Mayor LaGuardia famously said, “Use the gun as you would your lipstick…Don’t overdo either one.”[2]

Chief Schimmel worked hard to achieve that ever elusive work-life balance.  She raised two children while trying to rise in the ranks.  But, at that time, women were not allowed to take the test to become sergeants.  Much like people doubted that women could ever graduate from the U.S. Army’s prestigious Ranger School, which as of this past August we know can be done, the then Police Commissioner did not believe women had the physical strength or the endurance to be sergeants.[3]  So, in 1961, Schimmel and Felicia Shpritzer sued for the right of women to take promotional exams—a case they eventually won.[4]  Shpritzer retired as a lieutenant while Schimmel stayed on longer and became Chief.

When Chief Schimmel passed away in May of this year at the age of 96, the New York Times reported that she had no qualms about being “loud and clear when she had to be.”  Sounds familiar and more power to her.  Chief Schimmel was a trailblazer, a poker player and an author.  Like so many women, she wore a multitude of hats, none, I am sure, more sacred to her than those emblazoned with the letters NYPD.

In her 41 years on the force, Chief Schimmel cracked the brass ceiling and helped pave the way for many of you here today.  Just as we recognize the trailblazers, it is important that we remember the stories of those whose time as part of the thin blue line was cut all too short.  The first woman of the NYPD killed in the line of duty was Irma, or Fran, Lozada.  She was a plainclothes transit officer and had been pursuing a suspect who had snatched a gold chain from an unsuspecting victim on the L train.  She followed him to a nearby warehouse yard where the suspect wrestled her gun from her and shot her.[5]

More than 3,500 police officers lined the streets to say goodbye to Officer Lozada on a dreary day in September 1984, more than 30 years ago.  The crowd’s grief was echoed by the haunting tones of the Emerald Society’s Pipes & Drums,[6] which always simultaneously evoke deeply felt emotions of mourning, respect, and the celebration of a brave life.

Their sounds also followed the casket of another courageous woman whose story I am sure all of you know, Police Officer Moira Smith.  Her valor first came to public view in 1991, when she won the Distinguished Duty Medal for pulling injured passengers from the wreckage of a subway derailment.  She next came to public attention in 1994, when she responded to firebombs—homemade from mayonnaise jars, kitchen timers, batteries and flashbulbs— that exploded in a subway car on Fulton Street.[7]

On September 11, 2001, Moira was on duty at the 13th Precinct when she got the call about an airplane crashing into the World Trade Center.  It was the last call she took.  The lone female police officer lost on 9/11, Police Officer Moira Smith saved hundreds of lives as she evacuated people out of Tower Two.  Survivors who encountered Moira on their way out of the building said she emanated a very assuring sense of calm, which came through loud and clear when I recently listened to the three-minute radio transmission record of what is believed to be Officer Smith’s last words from the Trade Center.[8]  I was on duty that day too, in a much less dangerous space in the U.S. Attorney’s Office at 1 St. Andrews Plaza, right next to the federal courthouses and asked the U.S. Marshalls to close them, fearing they would become the next target.

A few months after September 11th, Moira’s daughter Patricia, a two-year old clad in a red velvet dress, toddled across the stage at Carnegie Hall with her father to accept her mother’s Medal of Honor from Mayor Giuliani.[9]

Moira Smith’s spirit lives on in each of you when you go to work—never knowing what the day will bring.  The stories of Moira Smith, Irma Lozada, and Gertrude Schimmel are the stories of New York and the NYPD—both uplifting and heartbreaking.  These women were all gritty and courageous, dedicated and humble, selfless and stalwart.  Their qualities are the qualities that define you—the women of the NYPD—that knit together your relationships with each other.  You perpetuate and honor the legacies of these women as you create your own.

***

While my stories cannot compare to these, I have been asked to say a few words about me and my own experience as a woman in law enforcement.  New York has been my home since 1970.    I am always happy to return, and like Joe DiMaggio said of his being a New York Yankee, I am grateful to be a New Yorker.  And no one is more representative of all that is best and most impressive about New York than the NYPD.  You come from all five boroughs, all walks of life and, whatever particular job you perform in the NYPD, dedicate your lives to the welfare of this City.  Writer John Updike said that the true New Yorker has a “secret belief that people living anywhere else ha[ve] to be, in some sense, kidding.”[10]  So true.

From 1993 to 2002, I had the privilege of being the first and am still the only woman to serve as the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York.  My predecessors as U.S. Attorney are an esteemed group, albeit all men. They went on to become U.S. Senators, mayors, attorneys general, and Secretaries of State and War.[11]  The SDNY U.S. Attorney’s Office actually predates the Department of Justice in Washington by more than 80 years.[12]  And, the Southern District court is the oldest federal court in the country—actually predating the Supreme Court by several weeks.[13]  That is quite a tradition to uphold.

In my first year as U.S Attorney, I also served as the Chair of Janet Reno’s Attorney General’s Advisory Committee (AGAC), a group of about fifteen U.S. Attorneys from around the country who counseled the Attorney General on policy matters.  Janet Reno was the first woman to serve as our Attorney General and now, a great New Yorker we know and admire—Loretta Lynch, the former U.S. Attorney in the EDNY— is, of course, the second woman, and first African-American woman, to serve as the Attorney General of the United States.  That is also great progress for women in policing.

I have one quick story to tell from my days as Chair of the AGAC that makes the point of how important it is to have women in numbers represented in the leadership of the NYPD.  It was 1993, and, for the first time in my career, I was in a high-powered setting where the women outnumbered the men in Attorney General Reno’s weekly senior staff meeting.  These meetings included the Attorney General, the Deputy Attorney General, all of the Assistant Attorneys General, and the Solicitor General of the United States—a pretty powerful group, all appointed by the President and confirmed by the U.S. Senate. 

And what happened in this woman-dominated work setting was that the women spoke up freely and forcefully advocated their ideas, while the men seemed much more reticent about expressing their views.  That is the reality of how our environment impacts our behavior.  But, because women are still usually outnumbered in many professional settings, we sometimes forget how much the numbers matter – to both our professional success and job satisfaction.  That is why we must all strive to increase those numbers by supporting our fellow women in policing and helping the women coming up behind us.

So how was it being the first woman U.S. Attorney here in New York beginning in 1993—now over 20 years ago?  It was great, but it was not always easy.  In my early days as U.S. Attorney, the New York Times said that “in the restrained world of federal prosecutors… [I stood] out like a pair of jeans in a closet full of pinstripes.”[14]  I took it as a compliment.  In those days, not too many U.S. Attorneys stood five feet tall and rode a motorcycle.  In those days, not too many U.S. Attorneys were called upon to prosecute international terrorists either.

This was obviously a deadly serious and important responsibility that I have no doubt some may have been at least initially uneasy about the task being handled by a woman.   But, as in all areas, the best way to silence skeptics or critics is by doing your job and trying to do it well.  I became U.S. Attorney just three months after the World Trade Center had been bombed on February 26, 1993, and six of our citizens lost their lives.  Little did I know then that terrorism would become such a primary focus of my tenure as U.S. Attorney. 

Later that year, we prosecuted the perpetrators of the 1993 attack on the Trade Center and charged another dozen terrorists, including their leader “the blind sheik” Omar Abdel Rahman, for another ongoing terrorist plot directed at our City to simultaneously bomb the Lincoln and Holland tunnels, FBI Headquarters at 26 Federal Plaza, and the United Nations building.  If not foiled by arrests, this horrific plot could have resulted in thousands of deaths by drowning and bombing in a single day.

In doing these cases, I worked extensively with the Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF), which was founded by the NYPD and the FBI in 1980 and all of its members, in my mind, have been huge heroes of the City ever since.  One of the many great people I worked with from the JTTF was Tommy Corrigan, a former NYPD Detective who passed away on July 4th, 2011. 

Because of the continuing threat from international terrorism, day in and day out as U.S. Attorney for the nearly nine years I served, we worked on a stunning set of national security issues.  No work in our office had a higher priority.  One defendant our office prosecuted was Ramzi Yousef, one of the architects of the 1993 Trade Center bombing, a crime scene he fled on the day of the bombing.  While a fugitive abroad, Yousef plotted to blow up a dozen U.S. jumbo jets flying back to the United States from Asia in a single 48-hour period.  Fortunately, the plot was thwarted, and Yousef was captured in Pakistan and returned to the SDNY for trial.  I was, in fact, standing outside the elevator at FBI headquarters in 26 Federal Plaza the night Yousef was brought to the Command Center to be processed.  In November 1997, Yousef was convicted and, in January 1998, was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.  At his sentencing, Yousef decreed: ‘Yes, I am a terrorist and am proud of it.’  That was the type of terrorist mentality we were—and are—dealing with.  But for me, the NYPD, and FBI, it was just a part of the job.

In 1996, we indicted Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, for his role in Yousef’s plot to blow up the U.S. airliners.  Tragically, he was not captured until after 9/11.  In 1998, our office also brought indictments against Osama Bin Laden for conspiring to destroy U.S. defense installations and for the bombings of our embassies in East Africa, in which 224 innocent civilians lost their lives.  In all, during my tenure, we successfully prosecuted about three dozen terrorist defendants.  And in the grim days after 9/11, we launched the investigation into who had orchestrated those horrific crimes.

My work at the Southern District was just not terrorism.  We also brought many major cases involving white collar crimes, civil rights violations, violent gangs, the international drug trade, and public corruption.  It was an important and exciting time.  My perspective on being U.S. Attorney, and on my career more generally, is probably quite similar to how you feel about being in the NYPD.  It was and is that my job is really to do what I think is right every day, and to help people.  Jobs where that is your mission are hard to come by, and I was fortunate to be able to do that both in the U.S. Attorney’s Office and now at the Securities and Exchange Commission.

At the SEC, I am very pleased that I am not the first, nor second, but the third woman to serve as the Chair, all three of us appointed by President Barack Obama.  I am honored to come to work every day to work on behalf of America’s investors, to help businesses raise capital and to safeguard the best capital markets in the world.  A large part of what we do at the SEC is civilly prosecuting those who violate the federal securities laws.  While the job does take me away from New York, it is always an honor to return to public service, and it is a privilege to work at the Commission.

In my view, there is no higher calling than public service.  That is particularly true for those willing to put their lives on the line every day, as many of you do.  What all of you do, and your bravery, are truly humbling to me.  In the time I have spent working with the NYPD, I have had the pleasure of watching women chip away at the brass ceiling, push the boundaries, and seize new opportunities in every kind of job in the Department.  Keep it coming and always support each other.

I will conclude my remarks with one last story—a much lighter one—to show you that I, too, have tried to do my part to level the playing field for the women of the NYPD.  My contribution was to check the ego of one retired NYPD sergeant, who was a terrific criminal investigator in the U.S. Attorney’s Office when I was a young Assistant United States Attorney.  The name of our protagonist is Jim Nauwens.  At some point, he decided, egged on by some of his male colleagues, that it was a good idea to challenge me to a tennis match—a kind of SDNY rerun of the Billie Jean King-Bobby Riggs epic tennis match, in which Billie Jean King proved that a truly great woman U.S. tennis player could easily and soundly beat a middling professional male player.[15]

Jim Nauwens, who is a great friend, is also an all-around jock, but who had only recently taken up tennis when he issued his challenge.  He thought he could beat me—only a woman after all—despite my years of experience on the tennis court.  So we arranged a one-set, winner take all “Battle of the Sexes” type match outside of the City.  Jim was fashionably late, and so I decided that I needed to make a statement with my entrance as well.  I rode onto the court on my red Honda motorcycle—the smallest one made—with the speakers blaring the song “I Am Woman, Hear Me Roar,” sung by the Australian born rock singer, Helen Reddy.  I won the match, 6-1.  Jim should have known better.  It is always a mistake to underestimate women.  But that is something that will continue to happen, and we will need to prove ourselves more times than we should.  But we will.

Let me end by thanking you for your public service and for your support of each other and the women in policing who will come after you.  Do what you think is right every day.  Never think that there is anything that you cannot do or achieve.  And when it is a particularly tough day, or when it feels like a battle of the sexes, roll up singing loud and clear “I am woman” and let them hear you roar.

Thank you.



[1] See A History of Women in the NYPD, The Policewomen’s Endowment Association, available at: http://www.nypdpea.com/History.html

[2] See Goldstein, Richard. “Gertrude Schimmel, First Female New York Police Chief, Dies at 96.” New York Times, May 12, 2015.  Available at: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/13/nyregion/gertrude-schimmel-first-woman-named-an-nypd-chief-dies-at-96.html?_r=0

See A History of Women in the NYPD, The Policewomen’s Endowment Association, available at: http://www.nypdpea.com/History.html

[3] See Goldstein, Richard. “Gertrude Schimmel, First Female New York Police Chief, Dies at 96.” New York Times, May 12, 2015.  Available at: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/13/nyregion/gertrude-schimmel-first-woman-named-an-nypd-chief-dies-at-96.html?_r=0

[4] Ibid

[5] See The People v. Darryl Jeter, 80 N.Y.2d 818, 600 N.E.2d 214, 587 N.Y.S.2d 583, Available at https://www.law.cornell.edu/nyctap/I92_0133.htm

Dewan, Shaila.  “Recalling a Slain Officer, and the Equality of Peril.”  New York Times, September 22, 2004.  Available at: http://www.nytimes.com/2004/09/22/nyregion/recalling-a-slain-officer-and-the-equality-of-peril.html

[6] See Fein, Esther.  “Last Farewell for an Officer Slain on Duty.”  New York Time, September 27, 1984.  Available

at: http://www.nytimes.com/1984/09/27/nyregion/last-farewell-for-an-officer-slain-on-duty.html

[7] See James, George. “Man Convicted In Bombings on Subway.”  New York Times, March 9, 1996.  Available at: http://www.nytimes.com/1996/03/08/nyregion/man-convicted-in-bombings-on-subway.html

[8] See CNN Presents: Beyond Bravery: The Women of 9/11.  Available at: http://www.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/1109/05/cp.01.html

[9] See Clarke, Suzan.  “Patricia Smith, Little Girl in Red Dress, Remembers Police Officer Mother Who Died.”  ABC News, September 11, 2011.  Available at: http://abcnews.go.com/US/911-patricia-smith-girl-red-dress-remembers-police/story?id=14478523

[10] See Haberman, Clyde.  “Thoughts on the City by a New Yorker Writer who Avoided New York.”  New York Times, January 29, 2009.  Available at: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/30/nyregion/30nyc.html

[11] See Burleigh, Nina. “White Power.” New York Magazine, July 9, 2001.  Available at: http://nymag.com/nymetro/news/politics/national/features/4926/

[12] See “About the Office.”  U.S. Department of Justice.  Available at: http://www.justice.gov/ag/about-office

[13] See “The United States District court for the Southern District of New York: A Retrospective (1990-2000).” The New York County Lawyers’ Association Committee on the Federal Courts, December 2002.  Available at: http://history.nysd.uscourts.gov/docs/retrospective_2002.pdf

[14] See Perez-Pena, Richard.  “An Aggressive Prosecutor Who Plays to Win.” New York Times, October 30, 1993.  Available at: http://www.nytimes.com/1993/10/30/nyregion/an-aggressive-prosecutor-who-plays-to-win.html

[15] See Perez-Pena, Richard.  “An Aggressive Prosecutor Who Plays to Win.” New York Times, October 30, 1993.  Available at: http://www.nytimes.com/1993/10/30/nyregion/an-aggressive-prosecutor-who-plays-to-win.html

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