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From top cop to the NFL: What Cathy Lanier can teach female LEOs about career success

There are no limitations for those who strive to broaden their education and make a difference in their community


Cathy Lanier.

Photo/MPD via Twitter

Former Washington D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier is the new Senior Vice President of Security for the NFL. She was D.C.’s first permanent, female chief in charge of a diverse community demographic and a male dominated police force. Lanier had a uniquely long tenure as chief, working through three mayors and persevering through varied political climates.

Lanier was originally appointed to the position of chief by Mayor Adrian Fenty in 2007. Fenty passed over many other senior officers for Lanier. He was seeking a fresh perspective, new ideas and energy, which is exactly what he found with Lanier.

Innovative leadership
Lanier has an affinity for technology and leveraged its capabilities for the benefit of the department. Lanier was ahead of the times when she issued BlackBerry phones to patrol officers in addition to installing patrol car computers. She also implemented an anonymous text tip line.

Chief Lanier expected her officers to be compassionate and to consider an arrest a failure instead of a success. She even issued a directive on how officers were to communicate to transgender individuals.

Community relations advocate
Cathy Lanier is well known in Washington. As chief of police, she maintained an approval rating of 73 percent, most likely due to her hands-on nature and approachability among the community.

She freely provided her cell phone number to the community leaders and requested the same of her command staff – encouraging personal availability. Although she stands at 6 feet 1inch tall Lanier believes a lot of police work does not require brute strength, but rather excellent communication skills.

She was one of three female police chiefs among the 25 largest cities in the United States.

Lanier’s upbringing fueled her success
Since her teens, Cathy Lanier has defied the odds. She was raised in a single parent household, living off welfare. She was a divorced teen mother who climbed tenaciously through the ranks of the police world into the position of chief.

Lanier was raised in a working class, single parent home in Tuxedo, Md. She struggled as a teen, cutting class at age 13 and pregnant by 14 years old. Lanier has never hid her past, in fact she used it as a tool to connect and empower young girls. She married the father of the baby at 15 years old and separated from him at the age of 17.

At the age of 16 she had moved in with her mother so her grandmother could watch the baby while she worked two jobs to support her family. Lanier’s mother taught her to type at the dining room table so she could take a day job as a secretary for a real estate developer.

At the age of 23 Lanier applied for a position with the Metropolitan Police Department. The attraction to the position was truly in the fact that she could get her college tuition covered while working for the force. She attended college in the daytime and worked graveyards. She ultimately completed her high school equivalency certificate and a bachelor’s degree.

She pursued higher education and received two graduate degrees and a certificate in hazardous materials operations. As a rookie, Lanier shared an award for the most arrests.

Now, Lanier is defying another odd by accepting a position as Senior Vice President of Security for the NFL. The NFL sought out Lanier for this coveted position. Lanier said during a press conference on August 16, “To women who think there are limitations to what you can do, and where you can work, the NFL reaching out to me for this position says there are no limitations for where you can work.”

Melissa Mann is recently retired from the field of law enforcement. Her experience spanned 18 years which included assignments in Corrections, Community Policing, Dispatch Communications and Search and Rescue. Melissa holds a BS in Criminal Justice and MA in Psychology with an emphasis on studies on the psychological process of law enforcement officers. She holds a deep passion for researching and writing about the lifestyle of police and corrections work and the far-reaching psychological effects on the officer and their world.