NEW YORK - Chief Juanita Holmes is barreling through the NYPD's glass ceiling. The Chief of Collaborative Policing is the highest-ranking African American female in the 175-year history of the department.
"That means a lot of weight on your shoulders especially this day in age," said Holmes in an exclusive interview with FOX 5 News.
The Department of Collaborative Policing is tasked with improving relationships between the NYPD and the New York City communities they serve; in a time when those very relationships are arguably weaker than ever.
"We have to bring those communities into our world, sit down and go back to the drawing board and get it right," said Holmes.
For Chief Holmes, this is personal. A Brooklyn native with 16 immediate family members also in the NYPD, including her own son.
But nationwide protests stare the complicated issues of race and policing right in the face and chants of 'Black lives matter' often accompany calls to defund the police.
"I believe in protests, I do. I’m one of these ‘all great change has been proceeded by chaos,’ right? It’s necessary," said Holmes. "But I think what’s missing I think the only component they’re really focused on to me, it’s my opinion, what I hear is the police, right? Defunding the police, the police are over-aggressive," said Holmes.
Holmes is one of just a few women to climb this high among the NYPD's ranks.
"Listen, there is no one that I know in any law enforcement agency that will agree with what happened in the incident where George Floyd was murdered, any human being would say that was, it was one of the most hideous things I’ve seen on camera, but with that being said, it’s not just the police. "There are social conditions, there are housing conditions, there are educational conditions that have been systemic for hundreds of years that need to addressed and come to the forefront as well."
18% of the NYPD's uniformed officers are women. You’re one of six women to ever- in the history of the NYPD- be named a three-star chief, while three are suing for gender bias.
"Right," said Holmes.
I wonder if you feel somewhat alienated as a woman in the NYPD?
"I don’t feel alienated as a woman. I can’t say that I do. I do believe a woman can be a Chief of Patrol, Chief of Department, the Police Commissioner, Chief of Detective, I’ve said that publicly," said Holmes.
Why haven’t they then?
"I can’t answer that question, I can’t. I don’t have an answer," said Holmes.
She does have an answer for what the path ahead should look like, though, especially when it comes to the alarming rise in gun violence on city streets.
"I think gun violence needs to be brought to the table as a public health issue," said Holmes.
"There’s a reason deeper why people are shooting people, that needs to be brought to the forefront," said Holmes.
It's why, one of Holmes' first initiatives is, rolling out what she calls listening sessions or virtual town halls with communities seeing surging violence to hear from them how they want to be policed.
What do they need to hear from people like you?
"That we care. That we respect them. That we want them to feel safe, and we’re not going to tell them how to feel safe, I need them to tell me what’s going to make them feel safe," said Holmes.
Chief Holmes certainly has her hands full in the years ahead, but she's aiming a lot higher than that. She says she wants to be Police Commissioner someday, one of the NYPD's five most influential and coveted roles all of which have never been held by a woman.
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