Women at work: The few in blue

  • —Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

  • —Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

  • Rindge Police Officer Rachel Malinowski on her final day at work before taking maternity leave.  Staff photo by Ashley Saari—Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

  • Wilton Police Officer Ashley Pepelis in her squad car. Staff photo by Ashley Saari—Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

  • —Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

  • —Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

  • —Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Growing up watching crime dramas, teenage Ashley Pepelis dreamed of being a homicide detective.

At the time, she admits, she wasn’t aware that there wasn’t much call for homicide detectives in small-town New Hampshire. But learning that didn’t stop her from joining the police explorers as a teenager and pursuing a degree in criminal justice.

Now a full-time police officer with Wilton Police Department, Pepelis, a Lyndeborough resident, said she’s never had cause to regret that decision.

Pepelis is one of a handful of the Monadnock region’s female police officers. Women police officers are less of a rarity than they once were, though male officers are still in the vast majority. According to the Department of Justice, in 2013, the most recent data available, female officers made up 26.6 percent of law enforcement employees across the country, and 11.6 percent of officers. About 9 percent of officers in rural areas – those with a population of under 10,000 – are female. 

Pepelis and her fellow female officers said they’ve always seen themselves as perfectly able to do the tasks policing calls for, even though they might approach it differently than their male counterparts.

Rachel Malinowski was the first female officer on Rindge’s police force when she started 14 years ago, she said in a recent interview. She said she was on a completely different career path when she took up a job dispatching, which derailed her into a policing career.

Malinowski, who is currently on maternity leave, said she has received unequivocal support from the Rindge department both during this pregnancy and her previous one. 

“There’s a reason I’m still at Rindge Police Department,” said Malinowski. There may be more opportunities sooner for advancement in other departments, she said, but she’s willing to wait for positions to open up in Rindge rather than move on and lose the camaraderie she has with her fellow officers there. “This feels like home to me.”

But aside from being put on administrative duties during her pregnancy, Malinowski says she doesn’t see much difference between how she does the job and anyone else.

“Gender, I don’t think has as much bearing as physical limits can,” said Malinowski. “With an obvious size difference, you have obvious limitations. Gender, it’s not as big of a deal as it once was. I don’t see ‘gender’ anymore. I see people with strengths and weaknesses.”

But that just means you might approach a situation differently, she said.

“I’m very well equipped at verbal de-escalation,” said Malinowski. “I’ve had very few physical altercations in my career. My first approach is always to verbalize and relate.”

That approach is probably familiar to a lot of female officers, agreed Jen Weston, a full-time police officer in Lyndeborough. 

“I think women approach things differently. Female police officers have a more conflict resolution-oriented approach,” said Weston. 

But if it comes down to it, said Pepelis, women have the same training as their male counterparts. Since becoming a police officer in 2007, Pepelis said she’s been in three physical altercations. 

And there are times when a female officer is an advantage for a department, said Weston, particularly when dealing with female victims, who may be more comfortable speaking with another woman, particularly in assault or domestic violence situations.

“I have been asked by other towns, who don’t have a female officer, to come in during some of those situations,” said Weston. 

And while they’ve gotten the occasional comment, or people expressing surprise over their gender, for the most part, both inside their departments and in their townships, they feel supported in their roles.

“This job is community oriented,” said Weston. “They get to know you and trust you, and that leads to your job being easier. I definitely prefer small town policing. In a city, you go from call to call and never get to know or be part of the community.”

And part of that interaction is acting, just through their presence, as a potential role model for young girls. 

“If I go to a parade, or a school, in my uniform, you can see the little girls light up,” said Malinowski. “It’s good for them to see a female in any power position. They should be able to do whatever they want, and aspire to be whatever they want.”

And for girls who are thinking about a career in law enforcement, Malinowski and Weston encouraged them to contact their local police department about going on a few ride-alongs and talk about the career with an officer. Both have done several with students interested in becoming an officer.

“I want them to self-evaluate, and make sure they’re up to the challenge,” said Malinowski. “And make sure they’re doing it for the right reasons. Research what it means when you put on a badge and a gun.”

“It takes someone willing to put themselves in danger,” agreed Pepelis. “And someone willing to put themselves in a position where they might have to take a life. Not everyone can do that.”


Ashley Saari can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 244 or asaari@ledgertranscript.com. She’s on Twitter @AshleySaariMLT.