Sheriff Hutchens inspires women to be law enforcement leaders


Orange County Sheriff Sandra Hutchens stood on the stage and turned her back to the audience.

She took out her cell phone and snapped a selfie.

“I’m taking this so I can say I am no longer the only woman in the room,” Hutchens said. FullSizeRender-2

Many times throughout her law enforcement career, Hutchens has been the only woman in the room.

On Tuesday, she was one of hundreds.

Hutchens delivered the opening speech at the 9th annual Women Leaders in Law Enforcement Training Symposium at the Anaheim Hilton Hotel, along with Assistant Sheriff Linda Solorza and OCSD Cmdr. Toni Bland.

Nearly 650 law enforcement officials, mostly women, participated in this year’s event, “Sharing Strategies for Success.”

Bland talked about the importance of navigating departmental politics, being a good communicator and an even better writer, and mastering the ability of wearing an impenetrable poker face, which she said she’s still working on.

Solorza laid out her tips for effective leadership — tips that included being respectful, maintaining a sense of humor, staying positive and working as a team.

“You need to be decisive, but flexible,” she said. “Bending is good; it doesn’t mean you have to break.”

In her dynamic address, Hutchens chronicled her rise to top cop with the Orange County Sheriff’s Department.

Hutchens said she was encouraged by others to go for a career in law enforcement, and it was her husband who pushed her to apply for sheriff of Orange County.

She challenged the women in the audience to know their worth, and not wait as she did for someone to nudge them toward a higher rank or specialized assignment.

“I think as women we have a tendency to wait for someone to tell us, ‘You’re ready to do this’,” she said. “Men have a tendency to go for it, to give it a shot.

“I think we need to push ourselves and other women just a little sooner, and a little harder to get them in those positions (of leadership).”

Hutchens has seen women’s role in law enforcement evolve over the years.

She remembers early in her career with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department her partner would open her patrol car door for her, or any door for that matter.

“I know he was just trying to be nice, but I finally had to pull him aside and tell him, ‘This doesn’t look right. I’m trying to be a cop out here and you’re opening my door for me. We’re not on a date’,” she said, laughing as she recalled the anecdote.

She remembered raised eyebrows when she showed interest in becoming a field training officer, and push back when she put in to patrol Los Angeles County with another female deputy.

She pressed and challenged their decision until she was able to ride along with a fellow female colleague.

“The point of the story is I see two women going along in cars today, and no one gives it a second look,” she said. “Incremental changes.”

When Hutchens was appointed to sheriff in 2008, making her the first female sheriff in Orange County, it was much more than an incremental change.

It was history-making.

Reporters would ask: “How does it feel to be the first female sheriff of Orange County?”

She wanted to quip: “I don’t know. I’ve never been a male sheriff.”

Instead, she answered: “I hope I got selected because I’m qualified for the job. I think that’s what we all want.”

“Leadership is not about being the first woman, but being the best for the job,” Hutchens told the audience Tuesday. “I believe that every woman here just wants a fair shake and wants the same opportunity; no more, no less.”