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Highlights from the NAWLEE 2024 conference: Empowering women leaders in law enforcement

The sold-out event attracted over 700 attendees and featured dozens of sessions focusing on crime prevention, community relations and professional development



By Police1 Staff

LAS VEGAS — The 28th Annual Conference of the National Association of Women Law Enforcement Executives (NAWLEE), took place April 23-26 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

This year’s sold-out event, which drew over 700 female police leaders, was rich with sessions focused on career advancement for female officers and offering strategies for balancing professional commitments with personal life. The conference underscores NAWLEE’s ongoing mission to enhance and support the ascent of women to executive positions within the law enforcement community.

NAWLEE Executive Director Kym Craven spoke to Police1 about the value of the event for female police leaders:

Leadership panel

A diverse group of speakers shared their knowledge, insights and experiences during a general session leadership panel. The panelists shared several key takeaways about their experiences serving as women in law enforcement. Here are a few of the lessons shared:

Chief Jacquelyn Gwinn-Villaroel, Louisville Metro Police Department, on two-way community communication

“As the police chief, one significant challenge I’ve encountered is the perception among community members that their voices are not being heard. Despite holding meetings, there was a prevailing feeling that the police department was not genuinely engaging with their concerns. In response, we’ve created a space where open and critical dialogue is encouraged. It’s essential that while we listen to the community, they also understand the perspectives of our officers. By fostering this mutual understanding and transparency, we’ve begun to see positive outcomes. Both the community and the police have experienced trauma, and by maintaining open communication and actively following up on our discussions, we’ve found that working together effectively addresses these issues and fosters healing.”

Tara Hall, Community Partnership Administrator, Mesa Police Department, on mentoring police recruit candidates

“When I first applied to be a police officer, I was turned down but was hired as a professional service member. They didn’t tell me why I wasn’t selected. Only 12 years later did I find out from a psychologist that I needed more time to mature. This experience showed me the value of a mentoring program. We need to mentor our candidates, encourage them to develop and invite them to try again. We believe in their potential; sometimes, they’re just not ready yet.”

Assistant Chief Stephanie Mardis, Greensboro Police Department, on evidence-based policing and measuring community sentiment

“Our chief is highly innovative, embracing evidence-based practices (EBP) and was the first to bring a research scientist on board last year. This scientist works closely with our grants manager, proactively searching for grants that match our agency’s needs, putting us on the forefront of EBP.

“We engage in real-time surveys within the community to test our transparency and their sense of safety. Understanding the community’s mood, which ebbs and flows, allows us to keep our finger on the pulse of citizen sentiment. By scrolling through comment sections, we gauge how residents feel about our agency and our effectiveness. Our approach isn’t just data-driven; it’s crucial to connect with the community and recognize the humanity in each other. This has led to a significant improvement in both relationships and trust within the community.”

Officer Candace Kanaval, Tempe Police Department, on seeing beyond the uniform

“It’s been an incredible journey, both owning my pageant side as Miss Arizona and embracing my role as a police officer. Initially, I kept these two aspects of my life separate, not bringing my pageant involvement into my law enforcement career. However, when I began to integrate them, I was encouraged by the positive response not only from my department but also from the community. People were initially unsure about it, but as soon as I embraced both roles simultaneously, community members felt more comfortable approaching me. It became exciting. It was no longer a matter of ‘you are a police officer and I am a community member.’ We all have hobbies, families and lives outside of our uniforms, and recognizing these aspects can bridge the gap between law enforcement and the community. By connecting over common interests, conversations start to flow more naturally. People stopped seeing me just for the uniform I wear but began recognizing me for the person I am, which also helps build connections within our agencies.”

Krysti Hawkins, Special Agent in Charge of the Intelligence Division at the FBI Los Angeles Field Office, on not being defined by your career

“I’m an FBI agent, but that doesn’t define me. I am a mother, a sister, a softball player, and a motorcycle rider. Additionally, I am the only African American female Special Agent in Charge in this country. People see us, but we don’t often make the time to let people know us.”

Establishing healthy boundaries for working moms

A panel discussion moderated by LAPD Captain and NAWLEE First Vice President Julie Rodriguez focused on the importance of adopting a positive, goal-oriented mindset for managing the demands of work and home life, which can often feel overwhelming for working police officer mothers.

The panel explored their personal experiences, sharing valuable lessons on navigating these challenges and the strategies police agencies should implement to prevent female officers from leaving the workforce after becoming mothers.

Panelist Lieutenant Julia Clasby spoke to Police1 about this topic. You can read more about Lt. Clasby’s suggestions for actionable strategies law enforcement can adopt to support female officers juggling motherhood and their careers here.

To learn more about NAWLEE, visit

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