As the first female cadet in the history of the Brea PD in 1971, Shelley McKerren’s supervisors didn’t know what to do with her.
They didn’t even have a uniform for her.
So McKerren went to a department store and bought culottes — flared shorts that look like a skirt.
“They put me in dispatch,” McKerren recalls, “and in a week I was on my own.”
Thus began a storied civilian career in law enforcement that has taken McKerren to the upper reaches of the Anaheim PD, after working for the Huntington Beach PD and at the Brea PD a second time.
As division commander, Support Services, of the Anaheim PD, McKerren is the civilian equivalent of a captain.
Along with the APD’s five captains and two deputy chiefs — all sworn police officers — she’s in the inner circle of Chief Raul Quezada, helping to put into practice the police department’s commitment to Community, Teamwork and Excellence.
The APD certainly has known what to do with McKerren.
During her 20-plus years at the agency, McKerren has served as a classic example of how the department provides opportunities for its own to advance through the ranks.
It’s rare for civilians to be part of a police department’s command staff of sworn officers.
In McKerren’s case, it makes perfect sense.
She started at the APD in 1995 as manager of the dispatch center, and, for four years, she simultaneously ran that and the APD’s IT department. In 2009, she became the first IT manager for the department.
In October 2013, Quezada asked McKerren to take on the job of civilian commander of Support Services to oversee nearly 80 employees in Dispatch, IT, Records, Traffic and Property and Evidence.
McKerren didn’t have to think about the offer for long.
“I am grateful for the opportunity to be able to do this,” she says. “It was a good fit.”
McKerren — and law enforcement — has come a long way since her days at the Brea PD.
Shortly after she started there as a cadet in 1971, McKerren was assigned to dispatch.
She answered calls on an old-school switchboard.
She wrote everything down by hand, and used a manual typewriter for reports.
Back then, there were only two radio police dispatch channels.
Now there are 81 countywide channels.
“Dispatching was very natural for me,” recalls McKerren, who was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., and raised in New Jersey.
Her father, Ben Robinson, was a reserve police officer in Woodbridge, NJ.
McKerren’s family relocated to Brea after she graduated from high school.
At Fullerton Junior College, she signed up for police science.
And soon after that, she applied to be a police cadet.
“It was between that and working as a gypsy at Knott’s Berry Farm,” McKerren recalls. “The cadet job paid more, so I took that.”
The rest, they say, is history.
McKerren spent 2 1/2 years at the Brea PD and then joined HBPD as a dispatcher.
“They were paying $100 more a month,” McKerren says.
She stayed for seven years at the HBPD, where she met her husband of 38 years, Dan McKerren.
The McKerrens have two children, a 35-year-old son who is a Navy pilot, and a 33-year-old daughter who is a medical assistant. The McKerrens have two grand-daughters.
At the APD, McKerren became one of the first civilians to attend The Law Enforcement Command College, an 18-month program run by POST (Peace Officer Standards and Training). She published an article on emotional intelligence, which refers to a person’s maturity to handle decisions appropriately.
She has a bachelor’s degree in management and a master’s degree in organizational leadership.
McKerren has led several projects at the APD, including the two-year process of studying body-worn cameras (the APD was one of the first law enforcement agency’s in Orange County to embrace them).
“Everything we do helps free up officers to do more work in the field,” McKerren says. “I love the variety of my job, and I love the challenges. I’m never going to get bored.”