Breckenridge Police Department a leader on diversity and inclusion | SummitDaily.com

Breckenridge Police Department a leader on diversity and inclusion

Breckenridge may be a small town, but it's far from sleepy. Police officer Micole Sloan can attest to that: Just days after she finished her four-month training period in December, the police department was wrapping up an undercover drug investigation that nabbed 21 suspects and made headlines statewide.

Just weeks after that, Sloan was called to the scene of a building collapse, where she and her fellow officers were charged with bringing order to the chaos and evacuating roughly 70 people from neighboring buildings.

Those incidents were part of the fresh set of responsibilities Sloan faced after transitioning from Breckenridge Resort Security to the police force, a move she made last August after attending the police academy in Glenwood Springs.

"It's very different, for sure," she said. "One is very guest-oriented, whereas the town is more about the expanded community — the experience of guests in town but also the locals."

Sloan was sworn in on Aug. 15, and she is now one of 10 female officers on a force of 24. At roughly 40 percent, BPD has a share of female officers that is well above the national average. When civilian employees are counted as well, women make up around 52 percent of the department.

"I'm often asked how we do it, and I just say that we put a lot of effort into accurately reflecting the aspects of our community, and part of that is having a representative portion of women in the department," police chief Dennis McLaughlin said.

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That extends beyond gender, and includes things like a recent department-wide LBGT awareness training outreach event geared to the Latino community.

It's no secret that policing tends to be seen as a man's profession, and that's reflected in the statistics: According to data gathered by the FBI, women make up only 12 percent of police officers nationwide.

That means that some departments may not be fully equipped to assist members of the community that are different from the typical police officer — whether in gender, sexual orientation or ethnicity.

"I think we can bring something very different and can empathize and sympathize with people in a different way from men," Sloan said. "Not that men can't do that, of course, but it just brings a different dynamic to have women on the force."

There are also some times when women are specifically needed, Sloan said, like when a female victim says she'd prefer to speak with an officer of the same gender.

Women can face unique challenges in policing, where they can sometimes feel like they have to doubly prove themselves to earn the full respect of their mostly male peers.

In Breckenridge, Sloan said, that's not the case.

"I've been told it's very much a man's world out there at some of the bigger city departments," she said. "I've heard horror stories from other female officers, but I don't even know what that's like because I've only worked here. At this department we all work so well together, and it's more of a family."

Beyond gender, police departments also face increasing pressure to include more openly gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people on the force. That, advocates say, would help them better serve LGBT community members who can face bias when dealing with police.

To help address that issue, Breckenridge recently became the first department in the nation to have all of its officers complete a new LGBT awareness course launched by Out to Protect, a California advocacy group.

"One of our officers ran across the training and pitched it to the training sergeant, who challenged everyone to do it," McLaughlin said. "We really want all aspects of our community to feel confident that we educate ourselves."

The online course takes roughly four hours to finish, and participants receive a certificate after taking a final test.

"It was very insightful, and there was a lot of stuff I wouldn't have thought of before," Sloan said. "People want to be open about it, but sometimes they feel like they can't."

"Homophobia is still a pervasive issue in law enforcement across the country," said Greg Miraglia, executive director of Out to Protect. "There's messaging around who's welcome to apply, and when you look at the rank and file it's big, straight white guys. Ideally, training like this can help start to address that, and we're glad Breckenridge took the initiative."