California Police Chief- Fall 2013 - Page 16

Standout among chiefs Susan Manheimer continues to blaze trails for women law enforcement leaders Susan Manheimer recalls looking at the portraits on the wall of the numerous police chiefs who preceded her as top cop of the San Mateo Police Department when she was named to the post in May 2000. Her smiling picture, in bright color, stood out from the black-and-white portraits of sober-faced male ex-police chiefs. Someone suggested that a nameplate below her picture be put up to read, “The First Female Police Chief in the History of San Mateo.” Manheimer thought about it for a second. “Um,” she said. “I don’t think that’s really necessary. It’s pretty obvious!” Throughout her entire law enforcement career, Manheimer has been very obvious —- as in a standout, from her early days pounding the pavement in some of the seediest sections of San Francisco to blazing a trail for other female officers through her leadership roles at Cal Chiefs. Manheimer’s 18-month term as president of the California Police Chiefs Association ended last in March of 2011 but she continues to be a wellrespected voice in law enforcement throughout the state. In the 12 years since she became top cop of San Mateo, the number of female police chiefs in the state has grown to 21, up from only four in 2000. Those numbers, as a percentage of total chiefs, are above national averages, but there’s still plenty of room for more females to rise to the top of the state’s police agencies, says Manheimer. 30 | Behind The Badge BTB-Magazine-Fall2012.indd 30-31 For now, Manheimer, 56, is thrilled with the progress women have made in California law enforcement. “I advise all females to embrace a ‘can do’ attitude, as in ‘Can you back up your partner?’ or ‘Can you protect the community?’” Manheimer says. “They have to have an ‘I’ll show you, I can do it!’ attitude. They have to be great if they want to succeed.” Fewer than 2 percent of San Mateo PD officers were female when Manheimer was recruited as chief after a 16-year career with the San Francisco PD that included walking a foot beat in the tough Mission District as a police decoy (she was robbed 25 times) and taking down drug lords in sting operations. Now, 14 percent of San Mateo’s 120 sworn officers who patrol the city of 100,000 are female, and the department is much more ethnically diverse, says Manheimer, whose impetus to get into law enforcement came when she was 27 and was robbed in the company of her daughter, then 2 years old, in the Panhandle area near San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. Now, 28 years later, she’s still passionate about policing and the role cops play in protecting and serving their communities. Manheimer was recruited to leadership roles in the CPCA by Fremont Police Chief Craig Steckler, who she calls a key mentor. She joined the board of Cal Chiefs in 2002 and served as third vice president in 2007 before being named president in March 2010. Cal Chiefs has played a vital role in developing female officers and law enforcement leaders mainly through its annual Women Leaders in Law Enforcement Training Symposium, says Manheimer. “The symposium has jump-started women who are looking for potential leadership positions,” Manheimer says. “Women tend to put their heads down and do their jobs and are not as focused as much on their career track. We help push women to step up to the next level.” Females bring different skill sets to the job of policing, Manheimer says, including a tendency to be mediators. She recalls responding to domestic violence calls and wild family fights and using a calming tone that helped defuse potentially volatile situations. “You absolutely have to be able to handle yourself and take a suspect down when required, but female police officers tend to bring to the job our natural ability to disarm, engage and relate to a diverse group of people,” Manheimer says. Changes in policing, such as an emphasis on proactively forging ties with the community, make it vital for more women to get into law enforcement and develop into leaders, according to Manheimer. “There are more shades of gray to police work now, such as dealing with non-criminals including the mentally ill and the homeless and juveniles, where a more creative and collaborative social-workertype approach as a cop is needed,” she says. Manheimer, who grew up in the Bronx, is a governor’s appointee to the State Advisory Group for Juvenile Justice Delinquency and Crime Prevention and serves on the San Mateo County Community Corrections Panel, and the USF Law Enforcement Leadership Board. She has a son, Jesse, a first lieutenant in the Marines who currently is stationed in Afghanistan, and a daughter, Sarah, 31, a former prosecutor who now defends law enforcement personnel. Her husband, Michael, is an accountant. “An accountant and a cop,” Manheimer says with a laugh. “We have all the bases covered in our family. Seriously, though, the support of my family, my city and my department has been critical to my success — no great things are ever accomplished without the help and support of others.” • “You absolutely have to be able to handle yourself and take a suspect down when required, but female police officers tend to bring to the job our natural ability to disarm, engage and relate to a diverse group of people” Fall 2012 | 31 11/8/12 11:31:19 PM