forensic symposium speakers
Oct 11, 2016 | Lisa Taffe

From left to right: Joyce Becker, Nelson Santos, Steven O’Dell, Cathy Sanz, Thomas Coogan, and Richard Rosa

Last week, Stevenson University Online invited forensics and law enforcement professionals to discuss the topic of diversity and inclusion in their fields for the annual Forensic Symposium. Attendees gained insight into how forensics and law enforcement organizations have changed over the years to incorporate diversity and inclusion strategies. The following are excerpts from each of the invited speakers about their experiences in their field including how diversity has evolved at their organization from the time they started to present day, accommodations for women and pregnancy, and their advice for individuals interested in law enforcement or forensics.

Richard Rosa, Hispanic American Police Command Officers Association

When I started in law enforcement in 1991, only four percent of the Secret Service and Special Agent departments were Hispanic. We were very rarely concerned or involved with diversity training. Today times have changed; many agencies are pushing for diversity and inclusion. I am a strong believer in advocating for diversity and inclusion. I see diversity here at the event tonight, but what I want to see when I walk out the door is inclusion because that is a big difference.

In my current role as a Federal Air Marshall, we are mandated to have diversity nights in our organization (Hispanic, African-American, Women, and LGBT). It’s all about promoting the message to your workforce that all of these groups can contribute to the organization in a positive manner. One of the obstacles that I have come across includes people asking, ”When are you going to have a Polish-American night?” Those types of questions led me to start bringing food into the office to celebrate all types of ethnicities and races to support how we are truly a diverse community.

We are constantly knocking on the doors of the White House relaying our message that diversity and inclusion are pertinent to this nation, because without diversity we are going to repeat many mistakes that are occurring today. We don’t want a society that is homogenous; we want a society that is heterogeneous. Everybody’s input counts.

Twenty-five years ago, when officers became pregnant, it would involve finding a replacement for them in the field and they would be assigned to the office. Presently, we uphold the policy of “quality of life.” An example I’ve seen involved a Federal Air Marshal who was pregnant and given the option to fly when she felt comfortable. Our agents accommodated her and brought her in to do what we call a ground-based assignment. Maintaining retention within the organization is the major advance of taking this course of action.  By accommodating that individual, we hope to keep them in the organization which will save money and time hiring a new law enforcement officer.

As a minority or woman, you have to work at least twice as hard and unfortunately, a lot of people do not agree with this statement. You have to prove yourself constantly. You never want to compromise yourself, so women and minorities need to stick together and support one another if you expect to advance. For instance, if I applied for the same position as another person who was a minority and I lose the opportunity to them – it would be wise of me to support them because they can provide insight and help me advance. My job as a supervisor is to empower people beyond my position. In any job in law enforcement, you have to persevere and have a strong character. That refers to integrity and morals. Always keep that in the back your mind.

Cathy Sanz, Women in Federal Law Enforcement

On the federal side, women used to be barred from holding any position. A limited number of women were first hired in the early seventies, with no more than two to an agency. When I came on board in 1977, not much had changed because women made up one-tenth of a percent of the population. The agencies were almost exclusively male and 98 percent white. One of the biggest changes over the years is minority coalitions encouraging the administration to ensure that diversity and inclusion is an important concept. You cannot have a good community relations program without diversity.

In the overall gleam of about 1,800 police departments, they estimate that less than 300 are led by women. There are only a few federal agencies that are managed by women and there is a great lack of diversity in the upper echelons of all law enforcement. The research shows there is a great deal of implicit bias inside the cultures of law enforcement. With recent national events, the hiring methods of police departments across the country are undergoing lengthy investigations. We are discovering that it’s not just a lack of diversity we are struggling with, it also involves the issue of recruiting the wrong people in general. That being said, most people in law enforcement want to be the guardian; they want to serve the community. I think we’re going to see a very significant change not only at the base of law enforcement, but also the mental capacity of what type of person we hire.

Law enforcement agencies do not have policies about pregnancy. Typically, if you have a good supervisor, then you have a good pregnancy work experience and if you have a bad supervisor, you’ll have a bad pregnancy work experience.  A culture has been created that if you’re not 100 percent with us, then you are excluded from the community. We still have a great deal of work to do in that area and the problem severely affects retention. In law enforcement, the Special Agent positions (both with police officers and federal agents) are incredibly expensive positions to replace.  On the federal side, it costs about a quarter of a million dollars to lose an agent. With this new generation, family is becoming more and more important, so it’s forcing police departments to address the issues of family.

To break into the law enforcement field, you have to persevere. The application can be the most frustrating challenge. It can take anywhere from a few months to a few years.  Whatever you do, don’t quit your day job until you actually receive a hire date. If you’re looking at the federal sector, apply to numerous agencies. Most people only think of the FBI or DEA, but there are over 80 law enforcement agencies. Also, you don’t have to go with the first agency that offers you a position. Lastly, as a woman, you should support other women. Women tend to also be perfectionists and sometimes feel we’re not qualified for a position. My advice, just go for it.  

Nelson Santos, Office of Forensic Sciences, Drug Enforcement Administration

In 1987, the hard science field was predominantly dominated by white males. Currently, we have seen an acceleration primarily in females, as the majority of chemists we are hiring are women. Other groups, such as African-Americans and Hispanics, are not at the numbers we would like to see. I think we as an industry are doing a better job of outreach and trying to bring forensic sciences to universities and high schools, but we are still not seeing the numbers we expect.

We still have unrepresented groups on a national level, such as Asian-Americans, who are only represented in certain parts of the country. Regarding management positions in the sciences, we do have a good representation of Hispanics, African Americans, and females. From my perspective, what is lacking within the DEA is representation in the higher executive positions. However, we are making strides in the forensics field and even in STEM professions.

In terms of accommodating women and pregnancies, I think we have come a long way. The inherent dangers of working in a chemistry lab and carrying a child, as you can imagine are problematic. We leave the decision up to the woman to request an accommodation which can include an assignment of technical nature outside of the lab. We accommodate as long as needed and that’s not a federal policy, that’s our own lab policy. We even accommodate post-delivery, by ensuring that we have a room for employees to nurse.  

During the Symposium tonight, we have been talking about diversity and inclusion. Obviously, they are incredibly important topics but there’s one thing that brings us all together – we’re all humans.  And as humans, we seek happiness and self-worth. I say that to you because you should seek out a career that will make you happy, whether it’s law enforcement, forensics, or otherwise. Society is changing; the managers today will not be the same managers tomorrow. When I look across the desk when interviewing prospects, I do not notice what you look like; I see what you say and I observe how you act. That part of you is what’s going to sell for any job.

Steven O’Dell, Forensic Science and Evidence Management Division, Baltimore City Police Department

When I first started with our organization around 2000-2001, we were comprised of about 30 percent females and 5 percent minorities. Fast-forward to 2004, with about 150 personnel, it increased to 50 percent female with one African-American. Crime Lab Reports from a Forensics Foundation recently completed a survey across the country, and it was around 19 percent minorities and around 50 percent females in labs. I’ve worked in many places around the world and Baltimore City by far is the most diverse crime laboratory in the country. The crime laboratory currently has about 120 personnel, and it’s over 60 percent women, 40 percent minorities, and it totals to about 70 percent women and minorities. In management, there is one white male and all the rest are females or minorities. To me that is extremely important, it’s about hiring the best and these individuals were the best.

For women, I have a lactation room because we usually have at least five pregnant officers at the same time. Our department now has a pregnancy policy, and we also have a pregnancy policy for the crime lab. Depending if the job entails working with drugs or certain hazards, she has the choice to pull herself out of the lab or the dangerous part of work. A lab tech or somebody else performs the first part and then she would execute the second part of the work with the data. The crime lab is very different from law enforcement because it is comprised of about 50 to 60 percent female. These accommodations used to be viewed as a problem, but not anymore; now it’s just a part of life.

As it concerns diversity and inclusion, it is more than skin deep. It is about your background now, what you’ve done, and who you are as a person that defines you in the future. In respect to forensic science and crime scene investigation, you will need to earn a science degree. In the past, only an associate’s degree was required for crime scene investigation but that has changed. I would advise individuals interested in the field of forensic science to have a solid foundation in science. If that degree is specifically in forensic science, it should include the basic science courses such as Biology I, II, Chemistry I, II, Physics I, II, and some advanced mathematics and statistics. I would also advise anyone interested in this area to develop their critical thinking skills and sharpen their communication skills. Lastly, you should expect to have to start in crime scene investigation before working inside the lab, so be prepared for the hard work that comes with crime scene work.  Crime scene isn't a requirement, but entry-level applicants may find that their only route into a full-service forensic laboratory that otherwise hires from their crime scene unit into the lab first before having to recruit externally.  Not to mention, the crime scene experience is a very important experience to have. 

To learn more about forensics and law enforcement careers, contact us at suo-inquiry@stevenson.edu or 1-877-531-7118. 

Forensics, Law, & Criminal Justice