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New exhibit highlights 100 years of women police protecting Indianapolis

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – It might be an unknown fact to many, but women have worked as sworn police officers for a century in Indianapolis. On June 18, 1918, 14 women were sworn in and given a badge, and now their commitment to the city is being highlighted at the Indianapolis Public Library.

The exhibit, called "Women Behind the Badge" will be on display for the public at the library's central branch until Friday, Sept. 21.

The collection of photos, uniforms and biographies of the women who have served over the last 100 years was put together by IMPD archivist, Patrick Pearsey.

He found that in 1921, Indianapolis had the largest policewomen division in the country. It had 23 members. Sgt. Clara Burnside oversaw the city's "Department of Policewomen," and would go on to become the first female police captain in the U.S.

"Those of us who serve today would not be here if it had not been for the trailblazers before us," said IMPD Deputy Chief Val Cunningham. "Every bit of the history and story that is in this room today, has contributed to the ability for me to do my job."

Many female police officers were in attendance for Monday's dedication. There were also a couple who had some of their items donated for the exhibit. Sgt. Jackie Winters, who was one of the first three African-American women to be promoted to Sergeant.

Donna Holmes was there, too. She was Indianapolis' first female homicide detective.

IMPD Chaplain Patricia Holman, who became the department's first female deputy chief, was also at the dedication and led the crowd with an opening and closing prayer.

According to Cunningham, roughly 12 percent of IMPD's officers are women. That's not too much off the national average of 13 percent, but Cunningham said the department wants the percentage to be higher.

IMPD has held recruiting events that solely are for women. Cunningham said she hopes the exhibit might encourage a woman to go into law enforcement.

"The recruitment of women in law enforcement is key," said Cunningham. "More women than ever are needed. We have this situation in the national narrative of the distrust within the communities. All the strong points of women, their compassion, their empathy, their communication skills, they’re instrumental in bridging that gap."

Pearsey had three women come in to portray one of the first 14 officers. They shared stories about shoplifters and speakeasies. They added they weren't given a gun until 1922, which each woman officer had to buy on their own.