Ask New Haven Police Department Interim Chief Stephanie Redding, and she’ll say that being a woman has never made her more or less successful at her job.
“I think every officer individually has their strengths and weaknesses,” Redding says.
But during her 23-year career at the NHPD, being a woman has always made Redding a minority within the department, and that has oftentimes been “tough,” she said.
“It was hard. You just didn’t have a lot of company,” Redding said. “There were so few [women] to ask questions, to feel comfortable around.”
Redding, the first female chief of the NHPD, has been in charge of the department since the resignation of former Chief Francisco Ortiz on April 11. And although her time at the helm of the department may prove to be short — Mayor John DeStefano Jr. and Chief Administrative Officer Robert Smuts ’01 are in the process of finding Ortiz’s replacement — she said she is looking to promote community-development initiatives and children’s programs during and after her tenure as chief of police.
Forty-six-year-old Redding, who grew up in neighboring West Haven, began her career as a member of the New Haven Police Department in 1986, when she resigned from a public-relations job at Saab-Scania because the company was moving to Atlanta. While searching for a new career path, Redding was convinced by a high-school friend to apply to the NHPD, which had recently begun to recruit women, she said. Redding performed well on the entrance test and began her career at the NHPD working in the patrol division, undercover narcotics and the mounted unit.
But although her family was made up of firefighters, police officers and military men, Redding said she never intended on becoming a policewoman.
“It was just something that happened kind of quickly,” Redding said. “I thought, ‘Jeez, let me give this a try.’ I thought I’d give it a shot and see if I liked it, and 23 years later, I’m still here.”
In 1996, Redding was put in charge of the East Shore Patrol District, one of the NHPD’s substations, and was later appointed lieutenant of the department’s Family Services Division, which she said she loved because of the “family atmosphere.” In August of 2006, she was promoted to assistant chief of police under Ortiz.
Within the 23-year span of her career, Redding found time to get married to a fellow member of her academy class and raise a son, Patrick, who is now a freshman in college.
Redding’s desk in her office at the New Haven Police Station is unmistakably maternal: It features a bouquet of fresh flowers, photographs of her niece’s cheerleading squad and three framed portraits of her son wearing his football jersey and leaving for his high-school prom. But Redding said she dislikes stereotypes about female police officers, stereotypes that label them as inherently better-equipped to handle family and children’s issues in the Family Services Division.
“You used to hear all the time that all the women are really good with domestics,” Redding said. “Not necessarily. I’ve met some women who’ve absolutely hated dealing with domestics, and it had nothing to do with their gender. They just didn’t like dealing with domestics.”
Redding said the current atmosphere for women in the department is much better than it once was, when Redding said she was usually the only woman on the police radio. Back when she started at the NHPD, less than 1 percent of the department was composed of women. Now, she said, over 18 percent of NHPD police officers are female.
Although Redding said it was often difficult to juggle her roles as a police officer and a mother, the support from her relatives was important in maintaining a family and a career simultaneously. But she said she never considered resigning from the police force and becoming a stay-at-home mom.
“I was too busy and too poor to even think about resigning,” she joked.
But when Redding began to discuss the role that her Catholic faith played in her career, she became serious and her voice grew quiet and slow. She said she knows her religion has made her a better police officer and constantly challenges her to become a more patient and respectful human being.
“It’s sometimes difficult. You see some difficult things in the police department — painful things,” Redding said. “You see sorrows, and you have to tell people painful things, deliver them terrible news, and you rely on your faith to get you through the tough times.”
When Redding and her husband retire, she said, they hope to travel to Italy to visit the Vatican. But Redding said retirement is not yet on her radar. Before she leaves, she said she wants to see the completion of several renovation projects within the police-department building and the creation of several community-development programs targeting at-risk youth.
“I’ve been immersed in this world for so long that it’s hard for me to even think beyond it,” she said.