From zero to one, to now 10 female officers serving at the Mandan Police Department, the force has come a long way for diversity. Chief Jason Ziegler estimates the agency has the most women in uniform of any department in the state, but statistics aren’t kept to back this up for certain.
Let’s go back a few decades with now Deputy Chief Lori Flaten who shares a firsthand account of the growing pains, but also, unwavering support for those who served alongside her.
“Oh, I remember my first uniform, oh my god,” she laughed.
“It was sewn in and this and that and all over the place. And I mean, obviously, of course, men’s clothing is cut…” Deputy Chief Flaten motioned straight up and down to notate the cut.
“You know how it is. I used to have to find children’s boots and have them dyed black. Yeah, it was hell. Nothing…nothing was made for women.”
Going on 44 years ago, Flaten was sworn in as a Mandan Police Officer. At the time, it wasn’t common to see female officers, especially on patrol.
“No. It really wasn’t,” she said.
“I went many, many years when I was the only woman who worked here.”
It was a difficult adjustment for some of the community too.
“I remember times when I first started, when you had, especially some elderly people [say], ‘Well, I want a real police officer.’ I’m like, ‘Well, I am’ and they kind of couldn’t believe that,” Deputy Chief Flaten described.
It was a different story within the police department.
“The Chief at that time, Hugo Ternes, was very much supportive of women getting into law enforcement, very much, which was not the norm at that time,” she explained.
“Once you start working and you show that you can do the job, I think your fellow officers are very accepting.”
Despite any pushback, Deputy Chief Flaten never questioned her role.
“I’m the longest woman who’s ever worked for the Mandan Police Department. I was the first to make sergeant. I was the first to make lieutenant. I was the first to make deputy chief,” she listed.
When asked what pushed her to get into police work, she responded, “It’s my family business.”
The Deputy Chief says the culture may be why there have been many more female applicants in the last few years, including Andrea Benitez, who was sworn in just over a year ago.
“It’s all I dreamed of and more, honestly,” the patrol officer laughed.
“It sounds cheesy, but yeah, it’s a great position to have here in the city.”
Benitez says she’s never been treated any differently than her male counterparts in a department that is now a quarter female.
“At first it was a little intimidating, I won’t lie. This is a male-dominated profession, absolutely. A lot of people know that, but my one year here, I have seen a big difference in law enforcement throughout the country where more females and more diversity is coming in,” Benitez shared.
“People don’t blink anymore. It’s just like, ‘Oh, it’s an officer.’ They don’t look at what you are, ‘It’s an officer’ and I like that the world has come to that,” Flaten added.
Officer Benitez says she makes a point to get out into the community and talk to kids about their futures and to remind young girls they can be anything.
She says Mandan is a model for inclusion in law enforcement moving forward.
“To be able to take those steps to accept other people…when I say other people, I mean different races, different origins…it really does help, and at the end of the day, it makes the department a lot better,” Benitez concluded.
Officer Makayla Westgard just became the department’s female K9 handler in the past year. Deputy Chief Flaten says Westgard spent so much of her own time training alongside the other handler that it was an easy choice.