The following story is part of a new GateHouse Missouri series, “Shattered Ceilings,” featuring women in professional positions of power and responsibility in Mid-Missouri, such as mayors, public safety chiefs, medical professionals, business owners and more.

When Susan Rockett applied to be sergeant of her local police department, other male applicants complained to their boss it was unfair to run against her for the position because she was too smart.

“That is how bad it was back then,” Rockett said. “We have young female officers that have never seen the kind of things that those of us were suffering with 30 years ago. Now, they have no frame of reference for what that environment was like.”

Rockett has been the chief of Mexico Public Safety for over ten years. When she graduated from the police academy in 1992 and started on the police force in her hometown of Sikeston, there was yet to be a female police chief in Missouri. Today, she is one of four.

“The glass shattered a long time ago,” and it’s time we swept up the pieces, Rockett said.

Very few women worked as police officers in the early 1990’s. Police agencies were, and still are, the most male-dominated part of the federal government, and one of the most male-dominated industries in the nation. Rockett recalls encountering sexism from both the community and the department as a young officer. Whether it was sexist comments during an arrest or the “pink it and shrink it” method used to fit equipment for women, female police officers were an anomaly in the field. Even today, due to the scarcity of women Rockett feels female officers must try harder to excel.

“You just feel like you've got a much greater investment in it,” Rockett said. “Maybe that's just how I feel, but I felt like I had a much greater investment in what I was doing in the career. ”

The environment for women in policing has gradually improved since the ’90s, Rockett said. There are now more women climbing the ranks to sergeant or chief than ever before, which in Rockett’s experience, helps to improve inclusivity and acceptance in the workplace.

“The evolution is not that people became more afraid to say the sexist things,” she said. “But more so, it became not in their frame of reference to say sexist things.”

A turning point in Rockett’s career came in 1996 after attending the National Association of Women Law Enforcement Executives conference. That year, the International Association of Chiefs of Police pushed to promote inclusivity in law enforcement by encouraging departments across the nation to participate in the event.

Rockett was asked by her chief to attend. She was amazed by the hundreds of women of all ranks from across the nation gathered to share experiences in the field, attend classes, network and most radically connect with each other.

“I came away thinking, that was the first time I had been spoken to kindly by other women in policing,” Rockett said. “Policing was a very queen bee kind of thing, and women didn't talk to each other from other departments.”

There were so few women in law enforcement that Rockett recalls feeling distanced and isolated among them in the field. She also didn’t want any of her coworkers to think of female officers as “girls who gossip.”

The conference changed her perspective.

“Just women helping women, you know that's it,” Rockett said. “The experience really doubled down my ambition and my goals and what I wanted to do, because now not only did I have this nebulous, I gained a framework, a roadmap now.”

The national association connects women through mentorships and training programs. One of Rockett’s first mentors was a police chief from Kansas who is now retired. Topics like child care, sexism and general tips for the job are shared between the mentors and mentees. Most notably, the mentorship program gives women a way to offer understanding to one another and share advice. Rockett was shocked to realize how similar women’s experience in law enforcement is.

Rockett served as the president of the National Association of Women Law Enforcement Executives before becoming the chief in Mexico.

Today, there is a total of five women in Mexico’s Department of Public Safety. When Rockett started, there were two. With a steady increase in the number of women in the profession, the camaraderie among officers has shifted.

Recently, Rockett recalls a group of female officers standing together on a street corner when a man walked by and made a sexist remark. In unison, without looking at each other, everyone in the group burst out laughing.

“It’s just become funny,” Rockett said. “I’m an opportunist, but if you don't know the history you become complacent. And you know, I have been pulling this plow for thirty years, and I totally hope that you're talking to the last of the pioneers.”

In Rockett’s eyes, policing will have successfully become inclusive when two female police chiefs serve consecutive terms. Until then, in the community she protects and serves, Rockett aims to continue being a compassionate and capable peacekeeper.