The presence of that female officer, and the team’s softer touch, planted a quiet idea in the high schooler’s mind: She could be a police officer.

“Women bring a whole new important dimension to our work that should be acknowledged,” says Alex Gammelgard, president of the California Police Chiefs Association and chief of police in Grass Valley.

The SAPD is revising recruitment materials, says Commander Ponce de Leon: “We want you to be who you are and remain who you are. So we must transition to a more modern way of describing what we do for a living.”

The department is intentionally engaging with women, creating direct and lasting contact long before they apply to become officers – even before they imagine the idea themselves, says the SAPD’s Sgt. Maria Lopez, who helps lead the program that starts contacts with girls as young as elementary school.