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Chief of Police Nannette Hegerty

Milwaukee’s top cop says helping others inspired her

By Madison Lindeman | null , null
Chief of Police Nanette Hegerty in her office in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in February 2007. (Photo courtesy Madison Lindeman)
Chief of Police Nanette Hegerty in her office in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in February 2007. (Photo courtesy Madison Lindeman)

Ask people whether a man or woman should be the head of a police department, and many will say a man. But Milwaukee Chief of Police Nan Hegerty thinks it shouldn't matter. She just wants to help people, and so far she’s done a great job.

Hegerty originally became a police officer in 1976, and was one of the first women in the Milwaukee Police Department. Now she’s Milwaukee’s first female Chief of Police. When Hegerty started in the department, only 8 officers out of the 2,000-person police force were women.

“It wasn’t that hard to be hired,” she told Scholastic News. “But there was some concern about whether or not women would be able to do the job."

Now about 20 percent of the Milwaukee force is made up of women.

Hegerty talked to Scholastic News about one problem she faced early on. During Milwaukee's big music festival called Summer Fest, she arrested two men on suspicion of drug use. When she brought them to the command post, one of her associates looked at the men and said, "You let that woman arrest you?"

"I thought that was terrible!” Hegerty said. “I thought, the next time a woman tries to arrest these two guys, they'll probably fight her."

Hegerty started as a patrol officer and worked in many different positions over the years. Eventually she was appointed by President Bill Clinton to be the United States Marshal for the Eastern District of Wisconsin. In 2003, she applied for the job of Chief of Police and was hired.

Hegerty said she was inspired to become a police officer because she wanted to help people.

"When somebody is in crisis and you're able to help that person, it gives you a great deal of satisfaction,” she said. “But there are times when you see things that are not very pleasant, and it kind of makes your heart bleed for the victims of the crime."

Gender doesn’t matter in this job, Hegerty explained.

"I don’t think being the Chief of Police is any different for a man than it is for a woman,” she said. “I believe that the officers and citizens of Milwaukee want a strong Chief who's going to reward people when they do things right and hold them accountable when they do things wrong. I don't really think it makes a difference at all if you are a man or woman—you just have to be the right person for the job."

Hegerty talking to kid reporter in conference room
Kid Reporter Madison Lindeman interviews Chief of Police Nanette Hegerty of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in February 2007. (Photo courtesy of Madison Lindeman)

A typical day for a Chief of Police is very demanding. Hegerty starts at 7 a.m. in the office, and has many meetings throughout the day. The meetings are to talk about the crimes committed over the last 24 hours and progress on current investigations.

In the evenings, she goes to community meetings to talk about city problems. Being Chief of Police is not a job—it's a lifestyle, she says.

When she does have time, she trains dogs to be master hunters. She also enjoys scuba diving and traveling. When she retires in November, she hopes to have more time to do all of these.

After 31 years in law enforcement, Scholastic News wanted to know what advice the chief might have for young women thinking about becoming police officers.

"My advice would be to do the best job you possibly can, and don't ever be afraid to do something,” Hegerty said. “You've got to put yourself out there. You've got to do the best job you can every single day."

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About the Author

Madison Lindeman is a member of the Scholastic Kids Press Corps.

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