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.

Esther Quinonez
Detentions Lieutenant

I started in October 1996, and was in the 26th Corrections Academy. I was married at the time, had 3 young children, so I was very nervous, but I’ve come a long way. I served 6 years as a Deputy at the Las Colinas Detention Facility (LCDF). I served as a Fire Deputy, Classification Deputy, Corporal, Team Training Officer and JIMS super user. Eventually when I promoted to Sergeant, I was the Facility Training Coordinator. As a Sergeant, I was assigned to George Bailey Detention Facility (GBDF), San Diego Central Jail (SDCJ), Descanso Detention Facility (DDF), LCDF, and Vista Detention Facility (VDF). I worked in the Jail Population Management (JPMU), and then went to Detentions Support Division. Shortly after that, I was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant and am currently assigned to East Mesa Detention Facility.

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

I grew up in South Central Los Angeles, and unlike many of my acquaintances growing up, all of my encounters with Law Enforcement were positive. A lot of Patrol Officers in my neighborhood knew us, and watched out for us. My mom was a single mom, and they would bring us Christmas presents during the holidays; they knew we were low income and they became my mentors. When I was in Junior High, I remember telling a counselor that I wanted to be in Law Enforcement, and she told me that I wasn’t going to be able to because I was a female, and I was too short. She said I wasn’t going to get much taller, so, I never pursued it as my primary career goal. As an adult, I started doing volunteer work for the City of Chula Vista, and one of the requirements was we had to do a “ride-a-long.” I was assigned with Officer Snyder, a Training Officer, and she just impressed the heck out of me. She was very petite but she had such a presence. That’s when I said, “You know what, if she can do it, I can do it,” and that’s when I pursued it. The Sheriff’s Department was the first to accept me.

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

The struggle I recognized was the gender bias, and this was when I was promoted to Sergeant. If you’re female and/or soft spoken, then your opinion or knowledge base isn’t appreciated as much as your male counterparts. I never even thought of this until I came into the role as a supervisor, especially supervising men. As soon as I was promoted, I was sent to GBDF to supervise a team of men, or even male inmates that I’d never really worked with. So, having my voice heard, respected, and acknowledged was my biggest challenge. Once I established that platform, I didn’t have any more problems. I feel like I work really well with my male counterparts. It took me about a year to establish myself, be recognized as a leader on the team, and have my expertise valued.

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

Don't second guess yourself because you might seem, not only in the department, but also in society, as a weaker sex. Don’t let that happen. You are strong, you are knowledgeable, and you are capable just as much as your male peers.

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?

The biggest voice was my mom. “Are you sure you’re doing the right thing, and is it safe?” Or, “You should go back to financing.” I had worked in finance prior to joining the Sheriff’s Department, and she just thought it was unsafe. Afterwards, of course, she’s my biggest cheerleader and supporter. She’s so proud of me now. She’s always been proud of me but, just proving I can do it and be safe was the biggest for us.

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

I think the biggest opportunity I passed up was to go to a specialized unit when I was a deputy, to be a Corporal at the facility. This was the same facility I had been at, and looking back, I should have taken the opportunity to work a specialized position as a deputy, because those training opportunities will always be there. The chance to be a Training Officer or Corporal either at a facility, or a unit will always be there, but you don’t always get that opportunity to work a specialized position. The specialized position I turned down was the Jail Population Management Unit (JPMU).

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

I think it’s the perception that it’s dangerous, and that as a female you shouldn’t be put in the position of danger. So, that would be the biggest hurdle, trying to get women to understand that it’s not dangerous. We have a different skill set. We aren’t stronger, but as females, we don’t have to be. We can use our voice, and our intelligence to negotiate, talk people down, and to quell situations. Our male counterparts will usually have their ego come into play, where the women don’t have that. So just recognize that you have a different skill set, and different assets that you can use to overcome those concerns.

How did you balance the scale between family life and shift work?

It was challenging. I had 3 young children when I started on the department, and for a great part of my career, I’ve been a single mom and we just worked it out. We had a strong support system. My family, my neighbors, and my friends all pitched in. For many years, I wanted to get a specialized position to have a normal schedule. One day my son asked me what a “normal” schedule was, and I explained it to him, and that’s when I realized to them, my shift work schedule was “normal.” They had grown up with my 5 days on, 5 days off, day shift, night shift schedule, and that was “normal” to them. We sometimes celebrated the holidays a little earlier, or later. Kids never mind celebrating Christmas early, so that became our normal. Now that I have worked a specialized, “normal,” Monday through Friday, I’ve missed my 5 days off. So shift work is nice. It has its benefits.

What advice do you have for single mothers that are hesitant to join the Sheriff's Department due to their parenting concerns?

It shouldn’t be a hesitation because a career is going to take time away from your family regardless of whether you are doing shift work, or regular Monday through Friday banker’s hours. Society is changing what the norm is; no longer is it a Monday through Friday schedule. Retail, hospitals, banking; everybody is going to a 24/7 model. So, it’s very rare to even get those Monday through Friday opportunities, even in the private sector. In the law enforcement side, we have the added benefit that we are being paid very well, with very good benefits, and there is not that inequality in salary. So as a female, starting salary is the same as male. For me, it’s offered me financial independence. I didn’t have to rely on anybody to raise and provide for my family.

What about women that are highly concerned with their physical fitness level? How did you cope with the academy physical fitness requirements?

Your body is capable of doing tremendous things without you knowing it. I’ve always struggled with weight. I’m only 5’1” and I’ve always been “pleasantly plump,” but I just muscled through it one step at a time. I was able to improve throughout the academy. I went from a 13 minute mile, to a 9 minute mile, which I have never ever done in my life. So, it was just one of those things that, if that’s what your focus is, that’s what you're going to be good at. I made it through and I was just as competent as everybody else. I was able to physically accomplish all of the goals.

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?

From what I understand, now, they let you run with water bottles. So we didn’t have water bottles, which would have been nice. Looking back at the academy, it’s so much fun. When you’re going through it, it wasn’t fun but looking back, those were the good ol’ days, and you don’t recognize it until you are out of it and I had fun. I think the camaraderie that I established, its 17 years later, and I still have those relationships with those people that we started with. I met my best friend in the academy, and I made a forever friend and then some. So that was the biggest takeaway for me, the friendships I established and just recognizing my own physical ability. Things I would have never imagined that I would be able to do, such as push-ups, and, “male push-ups,” not “girl push-ups!” Running, and fighting. “Taking down” my Training Officer was a huge accomplishment for me! He was almost 7 feet tall, and he used to play for the Broncos and I, “took him down.” It was fun, a lot of fun.

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

I think my personal biggest accomplishment is having the ability to motivate people, to mentor them, set an example and just the enthusiasm that I bring to my position. Having people want to work for me, and doing a good job; I bring out the best in people. I don’t really try to, I just like to see people grow and develop to the best of their ability. There are so many opportunities on our department to do that. It doesn’t have to be all in the detention setting. There are opportunities to teach, drive a bus, train, and work with equipment and new technology. It’s about motivating people to see the opportunities and work to the best of their ability.

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?

I would tell them to believe in themselves. They’re stronger than they will ever recognize. We are just as capable, if not more, of performing under pressure, under duress, under stressful situations as any male counterpart. This job can be very rewarding. I always tell people, I’ve gotten out of this department, out of my career, exactly what I put into it. So all of the energy and positives that I have put into it, I’ve gotten right back.

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