Lawrenceville’s first female police captain focuses on officer wellness
By Amanda C. Coyne, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
June 28, 2019
Lawrenceville has its first-ever female police captain.
Capt. Tawnya Gilovanni received the promotion in late May after 13 years of service with the Lawrenceville Police Department. The law enforcement veteran has had a knack for leadership since the start of her career, making sergeant with the Braselton Police Department at the age of 24.
“I think it’s just part of my personality,” Gilovanni said.
Gilovanni has spent the bulk of her career with the Lawrenceville Police Department as an investigator, specializing in forensic interviews and special victims cases. Now, she oversees the uniformed division, which consists of about two-thirds of the department’s officers. Gilovanni’s main duty is to make sure all the officers making routine patrols and responding to calls have what they need, she said.
Chief among Gilovanni’s priorities in her new role is addressing the mental health needs of Lawrenceville officers. She said she’s intimately familiar with the daily challenges of police works due to her own career and that of her husband, an officer with another metro Atlanta department, and her mother, who worked in law enforcement in the 1950s and 60s.
“It was really important to me to take into consideration what these guys deal with on a regular basis. They see a lot. They deal with a lot. A lot of times we don’t deal with it in-house which creates a bigger problem because these guys don’t necessarily know how to deal with it either,” Gilovanni said. “It’s very hush hush. Just like in the military, a lot of people just don’t want to talk about it, and it’s something we want to change and make sure these guys have an outlet for it. We want to make sure we’re taking care of each other.”
Gilovanni’s focus on officers’ well-being was one of the things that sold Lawrenceville Police Chief Tim Wallis on her. When she was applying for the job, she came prepared with plans for peer-to-peer groups so officers can talk about the everyday stresses, big and small, that are part of policing, Wallis said.
“Sometimes we’re our worst enemy. We go into a bunker mentality and just bottle everything up,” Wallis said. “We need to talk to our peers or someone on the outside who helps us get through what we encounter each day, whether it’s an abused child call or a bad wreck or something where you have to see people at their worst.”
Gilovanni’s experience working with mentally ill people in special victims’ cases gave her a strong context for dealing with officer mental health, Wallis said. Police officers regularly deal with high-stress situations and can be at risk of developing post-traumatic stress disorder because of the demands of the job. The chief also saw Gilovanni’s experience as a woman in law enforcement as an asset in the captain’s job, as she can see the effects of the job from multiple perspectives.
“There are certain different aspects and challenges as a female working in the department that a male doesn’t understand, and one of the things about Tawnya that stood out to me is that she can relate to both,” Wallis said. “Her qualifications allow her to effectively manage and put her vision forth as a leader.”
Women are a significant minority in multiple Gwinnett County police departments. The Lawrenceville Police Department is about 8% female, with six women in sworn positions out of a total 71. Gilovanni is the only one in a supervisory role; there is also a female detective and four female officers. In nearby Duluth, there are nine women on the 67-person force, about 13% of the department. Five of those women are in supervisory roles — one deputy chief, two sergeants and two corporals. Two are detectives and two are officers. The Lilburn Police Department, less than half the size of Lawrenceville with 32 total sworn members, does not have any women in supervisory roles, but has one female patrol officer and two female investigators. Lilburn previously had a female police captain, but she left the department for a job in Tennessee, a spokesman said.
The Gwinnett County Police Department, significantly larger than the municipal agencies, has 61 women among its 729 sworn officers, more than 8%. Of those, 22 are in supervisory positions: four lieutenants, four majors, eight sergeants and six corporals. The department also had a female assistant chief who retired in March 2018.
Chief Wallis sees Gilovanni’s promotion to captain as part of a larger effort to diversify the department. In the year since he took the chief job, he’s added more women and people of color to the department’s hiring boards. Of the nine people hired in the past year, six have been “diverse candidates,” Wallis said.
“Law enforcement agencies are trying to reflect what their communities are, and I think we have lagged behind in years past,” Wallis said.”We are moving forward with making the department reflective of what the community looks like.”
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