BY CLAIRE SMITH In a field dominated by men, North Carolina police officer Kolenya Edwards has made a name for herself. The North Carolina Law Enforcement Women’s Association recently dubbed Edwards “Woman of the Year”—an important award considering that women represent only 13 percent of law enforcement officers across the country, according to the National Center for Women and Policing.
Edwards, who handles recruiting for the Greenville Police Department, would like to see that percentage go up. She believes that North Carolinians do not get the best service law enforcement has to offer when women lack equal representation on the force.
“I think women have something to contribute to law enforcement; a lot of times we are able to communicate better and work with people better,” she says. “In order for a police department to function properly, it needs diversity. It needs a little bit of everything because we deal with all types of people.”
Edwards didn’t grow up dreaming of cop cars and justice. As an undergraduate at East Carolina University, she had planned on studying computer science– until she took an elective course on criminal justice and discovered her sleeping passion. Just six months after graduation, Edwards got hired by the Greenville Police Department.
Edwards patrolled the streets for three years. She next began working for the special victims unit as a detective, protecting domestic violence and sexual assault victims– particularly women and children.
“You get all of those special crimes that a lot of people kind of shy away from,” she says. “It’s really rewarding to solve a case and give the victims justification and satisfaction that they did all that they can do, and the person that hurt them can no longer hurt them.”
Edwards feels confident that women have a place in law enforcement. The thought of going into this particular field may sound intimidating to many women, she concedes, but once you start it becomes easier. Edwards encourages women to look past the stereotype of the macho-man police officers that dominate TV and movies because the field holds a wealth of potential for women.
“There’s a lot that women can offer in law enforcement—just the fact that we’re more approachable, and we can de-escalate situations better instead of being aggressive all the time,” says this nine-year veteran of the Greenville police department. “Women are strong, and they can do this job if they just open their eyes a little more.”
North Carolina needs more leaders like Edwards to encourage women to enter law enforcement; Edwards hopes those leaders will emerge from the community from which she draws her inspiration.
“I get really excited when there are little girls in the community who come up to me and say, ‘A female officer? I wanna be like you when I grow up!’ That just blows my mind and makes me smile from ear to ear,” says Edwards.