Being the first in anything comes with its perks and challenges.
For one Milwaukee police officer, it came with responsibility, hardship and cherish-able memories.
Linda Velasco is the first Latina Milwaukee police officer, and she paved the way for other Latinas on the force.
“I was shocked because it just didn’t seem real, you know?” she said. “Like, I may really be a police officer.”
Eventually, Velasco did become a police officer.
She moved to Milwaukee with her sons in the 1970s from East Chicago, Indiana.
Velasco was working at First Wisconsin Bank when she got word that the police department was hiring women.
“I really was not aware that there were female police officers except for on television. I grew up there were no female police officers,” she said.
Still, Velasco took her chances and applied at the Fire and Police Commission.
When asked if she expected a callback, Velasco said she didn’t quit her job waiting for it to happen.
“I would hope that I would hear something,” she said.
The application process, from the written, physical and oral exam, took time.
“I was shocked that I got through it,” Velasco said after getting the call she got in.
Her graduating class had a handful of other women, but no other Latinas.
Velasco was sworn in on Dec. 6, 1976.
But, she didn’t even know she held the title of first Latina MPD officer until later on in her career.
“I had no idea. Nobody said, ‘Welcome, you’re the first Latina,” Velasco said.
At the time, she was a member of the Latino Peace Officers Association, LPOA, a group that serves as a resource for Latino officers.
They are the ones who recognized her as the first.
“They made me realize the importance of my position and what I did,” Velasco said. “It did make me feel really good that they recognized me.”
Velasco started out in District Three.
She remembers there was another female with her in that district and even though they did what any male officer did they were still looked at, differently.
“I think they were surprised. I probably would be surprised too to see a female, and we had to have short hair. So, you know, we all really kind of looked like little boys,” Velasco said. “We also wore a man’s uniforms. They hadn’t styled or come out with uniforms for women, you know, to fit us differently.”
She said she went before the Fire and Police Commission to get the ball rolling on hairstyle requirement changes. The rule was eventually changed.
Throughout her career, her family was supportive.
As Velasco recounted cherish-able moments of people grateful for her service, she said there were also challenges she had to overcome.
“Men had to get used to, you know, women being their partners now. Some accepted it better than others,” Velasco said. “There were some race issues that I remember that were unpleasant but not surprised by, but I was able to work through them.”
Even recruiting other women was a bit tough during that time.
“When I followed up with a particular woman, I called her just to see you know, if she went through with the process. She said that she didn’t because her husband didn’t want her to,” she said.
Velasco retired in 2002, as an administrative lieutenant in the mayor’s office, and has since paved the way for other Latino and Latina police officers.
“I’m glad that she had the courage to do that and push forward,” said Danilo Cardenas, president of the National Latino Law Enforcement Organization, NLLEO. “I’m glad she stuck with it because it opened the doors for a lot of Latinas and a lot of females to come into our profession.”
According to MPD, as of Dec. 28, 2021, there are 188 Latino officers and 50 Latina officers totaling 238 out of 1,648 sworn-in officers.
When asked if these numbers are sufficient Cardenas said, “No.”
“If you look at minorities in general, the police department doesn’t reflect the community we serve. I think we need to do a better job of recruiting Latinos,” he said.
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