- Associated Press - Saturday, August 1, 2015

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) - As a kid, Deanna Johnson was always interested in playing sports and beating up boys on the playground - not the typical things girls were supposed to like.

Now an adult, she’s a state trooper with almost exclusively male counterparts.

“The role didn’t fit for me, the role that I was supposed to take on,” she said.

Johnson is one of six women in the state Highway Patrol, a minority in a squad of about 175 troopers. The state agency is trying change to that, and began a campaign this summer to foster better on-the-road representation.

“You want your agency to represent the community that you work for,” said Lt. Randi Erickson, the agency’s director of training, who’s spearheading the effort.



But that’s going take time, and applicants. Of the three seminars for interested women that troopers have held across the state so far this summer, only one was attended.

There, in Sioux Falls, Johnson and Trooper Cortney Paul talked to four women about the independence troopers have and the fact that, despite making up only 3 percent of the agency’s workforce, they’ve never felt discriminated against or singled out. Case in point: Johnson is pregnant and she said the agency has been very accommodating, even to the fact that she can longer wear her traditional trooper’s uniform: “I’m a wearing a dress, for God’s sake.”

The lack of women in the state patrol isn’t an issue unique to South Dakota, or even state police agencies. Nationwide, Erickson said, it’s something with which police agencies, sheriff’s departments and highway patrols are all struggling.

In 2013, almost 12 percent of all law enforcement officers nationwide were women, according to data compiled by the FBI. In 2007, 6.5 percent of state police department officers were women, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

In South Dakota, 6.5 percent of all law enforcement officers in the state were women in 2013, according to the FBI.

“We’re just trying to have a proactive approach, getting this message out to a wide applicant pool, a diverse applicant pool,” he said.

The seminar attendees spanned various age ranges. McKayla Hovde, a 21-year-old Sioux Falls resident, said she’s surveying different law enforcement agencies and liked what she heard, even if it means she would be entering a field dominated by men.

“It’s quite intimidating, but I think it would be rewarding at the same time because I’m proving that I can do it and I can try to help persuade women to do a mostly manly job,” she said.

Johnson said the outreach campaign is allowing her to talk to women directly about her experience in law enforcement and how succeeding in a male-dominated field has changed her. She’s the first woman in state history to become a drug-dog handler and she said her colleagues often tell her she’s their preferred backup.

“I just want every woman to realize that the opportunity’s there for them to take on the role that they feel is right for them. And maybe that’s not the highway patrol,” she said. “But we’re not bounded by limitations because of who we are.”

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Follow Kevin Burbach on Twitter at https://twitter.com/kevinburbach

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