Women in Law Enforcement

Tell us a little about yourself (how long you have been on) and what you have done in your career with the Sheriff’s Department.

Gigi McCalla
Sheriff’s Commander

I’ve been on the department for 29 years. Half of my career was spent in Detentions. I was from the 71st Sheriff’s Academy that consisted of 25 people (8 women). After the academy, I was assigned to the Las Colinas Detention Facility where I served as a Training Officer and Visiting Deputy. Then I went to the Lemon Grove Station Patrol as both a patrol deputy and area detective. I was then reassigned to the Personnel Division as a Background Investigator, after which I was promoted to Sergeant. I served as a Sergeant at the the Bailey Detention Facility, Imperial Beach Station and Santee Station in the new COPPS unit. I then worked in Internal Affairs and as the Santee Detective Sergeant after which I was promoted to Lieutenant.

I then served as a Lieutenant at the Central Jail and Lemon Grove Station. I was then reassigned as the station commander of the Alpine substation. After being promoted to Captain, I served at the Lemon Grove Station and worked as part of the team for the new Rancho San Diego Station. I was called back to personnel (Human Resources Bureau) to assist with hiring over 2000 people, where I was then promoted to Commander serving in the Human Resource Services Bureau.

One of the most rewarding aspects of my career was to be a part of the Explorer program. I became an Explorer Advisor when I was a Deputy. For the past 25 years I has been a part of the program. For more details regarding the Explorer Program, please see http://www.sdSheriff.net/explorers.html. I also teach for the department, Miramar College, and Southwestern College. At Southwestern College I am one of the instructors for their open enrollment program.

What made you want to get into a career in Law Enforcement?

I was 19yrs old, I worked for Border Patrol. I had a friend (Dru Frogett) that I was with and Drew said, “Hey let’s become Deputy Sheriffs and we can drive fast!” I was unsure of what I wanted to do at that point in my life. My friend said “you should join the Sheriff’s Department.” I had no idea what a Deputy Sheriff was or what she was talking about. My friend became a Deputy Sheriff, and I was inspired by my friend who made it through. I applied and became a Deputy Sheriff, and it was one of the best decisions I made in my whole life.

What struggles did you have to face during your career with the Sheriff’s Department?

My first struggle was in the academy. I’m not a runner, and I wasn’t one of the people that can do 10 pull-ups or 20 push-ups in a minute. I had to work really hard in the academy. I remember the 5-point test. I was never really a quick runner. I needed 2 more points to pass the 5 point test. I had to run the mile in a 7½ minutes. I ran it in 7 minutes and 29 seconds. That was one of the hardest things for me. In our department, staying in shape throughout your career is important.

As a female in the department, in the beginning of my career, I always felt I had to work twice as hard as the guys just to be average. I always felt like I had to prove myself. Getting through training and overcoming these challenges were tough, and throughout my career, I have always tried to support other women that are going through these same challenges. As my time in the department grew, I felt it was important to support other females as sometimes in my career, I saw women being tougher on other women, but it’s not that way anymore. I really believe most women really try to help our female counterparts.

What advice can you give to women to overcome these same challenges?

Be confident in your duties. There are 3 things you need in this department: First, a positive attitude every single day you come to work; always have a smiling face. Second, have a good work ethic. The third thing is to treat everyone right. This includes the public, your peers, etc. It may take you a little longer than some people, but as long as you have those 3 things on your side, you can go anywhere on this department.

Forgive yourself. When you make a mistake, forgive yourself and move on. Don’t dwell on it, don’t blame other people, and don’t point the finger. Ask yourself how you can be a better person and deputy. Look at yourself first, and always be there for your people no matter what position you are in.

What concerns did your family and friends have with you becoming a Deputy Sheriff and did their concerns change after successful completion of your training?

My family has no clue what I do. I remember taking my sister on a tour to Las Colinas. I felt so bad for her because she was so uncomfortable but they do support me. They used to worry about me out on the field but now, not so much because I have a “desk job.” They are very proud of me, and I am where I am today because I always pictured my dad or sister standing behind me no matter what I was doing, thus I always tried to do the right thing. I really admire my dad, mom and sisters and they have always been supportive.

If you had the opportunity to change anything within your career, what would it be and why?

The only thing I didn’t really get to do was specialized investigations. Another thing I wanted to do was juvenile work and dealing with kids. I don’t have any children of my own, so all the Explorers are “my kids” but working as a juvenile detective would have been fun. Lastly, when I was a deputy, I wanted to be the first female Traffic Motorcycle Deputy. The only thing that prevented me from becoming a “motor,” was my height. I could lift the bike but I couldn’t reach the ground when I sat on the bike. However, I have no regrets about anything I’ve ever done. Everything played out well, and I am extremely happy with how my career has developed. It’s been a great ride!

What are your views on why more women are not choosing a career in Law Enforcement?

I think most women think you have to be tough or you have to have a certain persona about you, and you don’t have to be that way. You just have to have a concern about people; you have to be a team player, positive attitude and good work ethic. I think women also have the ability of “gab.” I think sometimes, it’s in our favor. We are very nurturing by nature and we compliment the male half of our department and sometimes have them look at things a little different. We want people who are smart, driven, work without supervision and people who are constantly looking at themselves for improvement.

How was the academy for you when you joined the department? What were your struggles, and weaknesses? What were your strengths? How would you compare your academy to the one the Sheriff’s Department currently runs?

It is a lot different. We are regionalized now with multiple agencies. I think there are only 3 of us left from my academy class. I will never forget the person that sat behind or in front of me. I remember the camaraderie and I will never forget my academy life.

What would you consider your biggest accomplishment or most memorable experience while working for the Sheriff’s Department?

Working with the Explorer program, and growing the friendships that I have made. This is a second family to me. If you are working this job and you don’t feel like there’s a family element to it, then you are missing out. This truly is my second family, and there’s not one person in the department I wouldn’t reach my hand out to help. Mentoring people, and being a training officer was one of the best things ever. Being a Sergeant was probably the best job I had because I was able to mentor others.

If you had an opportunity to speak to women that were considering joining the Sheriff’s Department, what would be the most important advice you would give them?

Believe in yourself. Don’t doubt for one minute your ability to do this job. Never ever doubt it. It takes heart, and if it’s something you find out you don’t like, that’s one thing. There’s not one day that goes by that I regret coming to work. I get up every morning and I look forward to coming to work. It’s the best decision I ever made in my whole life. I didn’t know what I wanted to do when I got out of high school, and coming here has gone so quick and I can’t believe it’s been 29 years. Enjoy it while you can, enjoy each and every moment and always believe in yourself.

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