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Let’s Take A Second Look At Why Being ‘First’ Still Matters For Women In Law Enforcement

OPINION By James Ragland The Dallas Morning News

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) When she's sworn in on Jan. 1, Marian Brown will become one of only three black female sheriffs in the nation.

The Dallas Morning News

The good news is that we have another "first" -- a black woman named sheriff of Dallas County.

The bad news is that it's getting harder to keep up with all the "firsts" in Dallas County: Marian Brown, the sheriff-in-waiting, will take over for Lupe Valdez, the outgoing first woman, first Latina, first gay sheriff in Dallas County.

Brown, like Valdez, is part of the changing face of law enforcement in Dallas, which now boasts the city's first black woman police Chief, U. Renee Hall, and the county's first black female district attorney, Faith Johnson.

Together, Valdez, Hall and Johnson marked the first time we've had women in all three positions; and now Brown adds a new wrinkle -- the first time we've had black women in all three positions.

Johnson was appointed by the governor after Susan Hawk, the first woman elected DA in Dallas County, resigned. Hawk, as you recall, unseated Craig Watkins, the first black DA in Texas.

Now, Valdez, the first Hispanic lesbian sheriff in the nation, is hoping to become the next governor of Texas -- which would make her the state's first Hispanic and gay governor.

I don't want to make too much light of this, because these firsts signify progress that we shouldn't take for granted. Women, minorities in particular, have had a difficult time breaking into a profession long dominated by men.

It's been even tougher for women to break through the glass ceiling.

Both Valdez and Brown, a former Duncanville assistant police chief who became the sheriff's trusted third-in-command, are part of a select group. Of the nearly 3,100 sheriffs nationwide, fewer than four dozen are women, according to the National Sheriffs Association.

When she's sworn in on Jan. 1, Brown will become one of only three black female sheriffs in the nation. The other two are Zena Stephens, who took office this year after being elected last year as sheriff of Jefferson County in southeast Texas; and veteran Vanessa Crawford, who was re-elected last month to a fourth term in Petersburg, Va. Brown will have to fight to keep the post. She will face two challengers -- Dallas County Constable Roy Williams Jr. and Eland J. Sigler -- in the March 6 Democratic primary. Two other candidates -- Chad Prda, a sheriff's department detective, and Aaron Meek, a sheriff's deputy -- are seeking the GOP nomination. Whoever wins the November general election will serve the remainder of Valdez's term, which ends in 2020. But Brown won an inside track to the job when county commissioners voted unanimously to appoint her with Valdez's blessing. Valdez said she's long been impressed with Brown, 52, who spent 26 years with the Duncanville Police Department. As my colleague Naomi Martin pointed out, Valdez recruited Brown to join her executive command staff after seeing a photo of Brown and learning how she'd worked herself up from a beat cop to assistant chief. "Obviously, she went from a police officer to a chief," Valdez said, adding that she recalled thinking: "A black woman -- that's not as easy as you think. When I saw that, I said, 'I got to meet that woman.'" One of the key differences between being a sheriff and a police chief -- or a top assistant -- is that voters, not politicians, get to pick the sheriff. And in Dallas County, at least, female candidates, particularly those seeking judicial seats, are a feared bunch. Still, Brown knows she can't rest on her laurels. These aren't just high-profile posts, but jobs that require both administrative skills and political savvy. "You have to get out there and you have to sell yourself," she said. "You have to let your experience and what you do, your work, speak for you. That's what I intend to do." Win or lose, Brown's already earned another asterisk by her name. And her achievement isn't a trivial throwaway line. It's a historic footnote marking the slow but steady progress of women in general and minority women in particular. It is a badge of honor. ___ (c)2017 The Dallas Morning News Visit The Dallas Morning News at www.dallasnews.com Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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