The Duluth Police Department’s incoming chief faced the biggest challenge of her career when she became a mother just a few years after being hired as a patrol officer.
“I had only been working about three years,” Jacquelyn Carruth said. “It was very difficult for me to balance being a mother and meeting the demands of policing.”
Now a 25-year veteran of the Duluth police force who was announced as the department’s first female chief during Women’s History Month, Carruth has clearly been successful in finding that balance.
“It can be done,” she said.
As the new chief, Carruth also faces an entirely different challenge that plagues police departments across the country: recruitment.
She did not mince words when she described the difficulties of hiring and retaining high-quality officers.
“Police departments are getting very few applicants, and the ones they do get frequently don’t meet our hiring standards,” Carruth said. “This isn’t just a problem at our agency — it’s all over.”
“It’s a hard job and fewer people want to do it anymore,” she added.
The issue of recruitment is especially acute in Duluth where Carruth’s predecessor, former chief Randy Belcher, grew the department from 16 employees to nearly 80 during his 38-year tenure. Belcher made history as Georgia’s youngest police chief in 1984 when he was sworn in just eight years after he was hired by the department.
As law enforcement agencies struggle to recruit new officers, Carruth described the field as one that would welcome more female applicants.
“I think it’s important to have women in law enforcement because police departments function better when they are more reflective of the communities they serve,” Carruth said. “There are so few women in law enforcement, this isn’t really happening.”
Carruth said women are valuable as officers because they tend to rely more heavily on their communication skills. Women who are victims of crimes are often more comfortable speaking to female officers, she added, which can help investigators gather specific information that could be critical to solving cases and making arrests.
The challenges of law enforcement can be daunting for women, who continue to do more unpaid household labor than men despite increasing their time at paying jobs over the past several decades, according to the Pew Research Center. Many of the domestic tasks that tend to fall to women, such as childcare and preparing meals, rely on a schedule that does not align with police work.
“Police officers are constantly changing shifts, working beyond their normal hours, working holidays, having to appear in court and attending training,” Carruth said, describing her own experience as a young officer and mother. “It was not easy, but with the help of a supportive workplace, friends and family, I did find a way to successfully balance both.”
The fact that Carruth says she managed to find a work-life balance just adds polish to her already sterling career.
Since becoming a police officer in 1996, Carruth has earned her master’s degree in public administration and criminal justice, graduated from the national FBI academy, attended the Georgia Chief’s Executive School and traveled to Israel as part of a law enforcement exchange program.
Looking to the future, Carruth favors continuity and said she plans “to continue building upon the strong foundation that Chief Belcher has already put into place.” As a leader, she values “the highest levels of integrity” and encourages growth among subordinates.
For young officers or those considering a career in law enforcement, Carruth’s advice is almost universally applicable. New recruits should expect mistakes, she said, and be grateful that those mistakes offer learning opportunities. Carruth also advised young officers to pay equal attention to both mental and physical fitness.
Asked what advice she would offer to a woman just starting out in law enforcement, Carruth said she would tell her to “take charge of her career path and to take advantage of opportunities that come along because sometimes they only come along once.”
Carruth also advised women in her field to be ambitious.
“I would tell her not to limit herself by thinking there is a position in law enforcement that women can’t do just as well as their male counterparts — including leadership positions,” she said.