By ANDREW MCGINN
Ashley Wilson isn’t unlike scores of other moms.
She runs her two daughters back and forth to tumbling, took one to nationals and keeps her husband and oldest daughter on task with a planner for each that she prepares a month in advance (in addition to a planner for herself as well).
She works part-time as her church’s secretary, and she recently found herself in need of a steadier full-time job that was more compatible with the kids’ day care.
Wilson found it — except that she now has the distinction of being the only mom in Greene County to wear body armor and a Glock to work every day.
Wilson, who turns 30 this month, made history late this summer when she joined the Jefferson Police Department as its first-ever female officer.
A month after hitting the streets, she’s more confident than ever she made the right decision.
“I enjoy the heck out of it,” Wilson said.
The department’s badges are all still gender-specific — hers says “Patrolman” — but she’s not one to make a fuss out of it, having grown up with six brothers.
“Being thrown into this,” she explained, “is no big deal.”
Wilson, however, is arguably much more than just another new officer.
“It brings a different insight to the department,” Police Chief Mark Clouse said. “It’s no secret that men and women think differently. It’s a different set of eyes looking at the same situation.”
That’s not just a hunch, either. The research confirms it.
According to the National Center for Women and Policing, female police officers use less physical force and more communication skills than their male counterparts. And that, according to a report in July from the National Institute of Justice, means that women officers have fewer citizen complaints and reports of excessive force.
Yet women are “dramatically underrepresented” in American law enforcement, according to the NIJ, the research arm of the U.S. Department of Justice, whose report this summer on women in policing also indicated that the number of women officers nationally has been stagnant for more than 30 years.
Women still make up less than 13 percent of officers in the U.S. even though they make up more than half of the population.
The National Center for Women and Policing, which was established in 1995, puts the blame on widespread discriminatory hiring and selection practices.
Clouse, who took over the Jefferson Police Department in 2016, has been on the lookout since his promotion to chief for the right woman.
“I’ve said if the right female applied, I would hire her in a heartbeat,” he said.
“Not just any female can be successful in a law enforcement career,” he added. “And the same goes for a male.”
An officer in Jefferson needs to largely be self-sufficient, Clouse said.
“Here in Jefferson,” he explained, “we’re alone a lot. We wanted somebody who could take care of herself.”
She initially began bodybuilding as a way to lose weight following the birth of her second daughter, now 4.
Wilson is now in her second year of competitive bodybuilding.
In her, Clouse found the perfect candidate in both body and spirit.
“Personality-wise,” he said, “she’s a very good fit for our department.”
Wilson plans to make a career out of law enforcement. “As long as my body can take it,” she said.
A 2008 graduate of Manson-Northwest Webster High School who showed horses competitively growing up in 4-H and FFA, Wilson originally went on to study equine science at Kirkwood Community College.
When she and husband Sean, a 2007 graduate of Paton-Churdan High School, moved to Greene County in 2010, she was managing Western Edge in Ames, a Western clothing store.
At their home today outside of Jefferson, the family has one horse, one pony and dairy goats. They got into dairy goats after her firstborn daughter, now 7, became allergic to cow’s milk.
Wilson had been intrigued for some time by the possibility of a career in law enforcement.
“It fits my lifestyle,” she said.
Wilson was at first, however, a different kind of civil servant, going to work for the U.S. Postal Service in the Farnhamville post office. That led to a promotion with higher pay. But the position’s flexibility — meaning she wouldn’t know which post office she might be working out of until the day before — simply wasn’t compatible with her kids’ day care provider.
She joined the Jefferson Police Department, making history in the process.
She said it’s an honor to be the department’s first female officer.
It’s possible she’ll encounter people who haven’t so much as even seen a woman with a badge.
“I may get respect and I may not get respect,” Wilson said. “I don’t want to be treated any differently. I just want the same respect any officer wants.”
“I can take a few not nice words,” she added. “Everyone’s human. We’ve all been at our worst.”
Admittedly, as a mom, she thinks she’ll bring a mother’s touch to the job, which could be useful when dealing with other women and children.
“We come off as sometimes scary,” she said of police in general.
But it also bears remembering that most mothers also pride themselves on being able to take someone out of this world, too.
That Glock isn’t just for show.
Clouse sees the benefit of a female officer, for example, in cases of domestic assault, when the victim is traditionally a woman.
“A female officer just has a lot to offer,” he said, adding that there are multiple situations where a female officer would put people at ease.
Already, Wilson has felt the positive effects of being a woman cop.
“I’ve had women tell me more personal things than they might tell a male officer,” she said.
Her decision to become a cop also stems largely from motherhood.
“It’s scary out there,” Wilson said. “I want to have a better community for my kids.”
She’s also not naive.
“There are things that can happen,” she acknowledged.
However, she said she has her faith and a good support system to call on in moments of crisis.
“I’m not afraid of dying,” Wilson said matter-of-factly.
The next step for Wilson is to undergo training at the Iowa Law Enforcement Academy from January to April.
When you’re a busy mom like Wilson, it would seem that the law enforcement equivalent of boot camp sounds downright relaxing.
“I’m going to take it as a vacation,” she said.
A cautionary tale
Jefferson Police Chief Mark Clouse is almost certain there’s never before been a female police officer in the department’s ranks.
A search of the Jefferson newspaper archives supports his belief.
But the idea of a policewoman isn’t totally foreign to Jefferson residents. In fact, more than a century ago, a young Jefferson resident encountered a policewoman, Margaret Goddard, after running away to Des Moines.
Papers back in the spring of 1916 carried the story of 12-year-old Lyman Gilbert Beatley, who ran away from Jefferson and made it all the way to Des Moines on a heart-wrenching quest to find “someone who would love him just a little.”
Lyman, who told police that both of his parents were dead, found the love he needed on the shoulder of Officer Goddard.
“That good woman,” it was reported, “who has listened unmoved to hundreds of highly colored falsehoods, shed tears herself.”
An instant bond formed — until, that is, Lyman’s dad phoned.
“That boy’s my son,” the father is reported to have said. “I’m not so dead I can’t come and get him.”
The paper concluded that the boy “was one of the best juvenile actors on or off the stage.”
— Andrew McGinn