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BPD Brass Ceiling Busted

Friday August 08, 2003

Stephanie Fleming made history for the second time in her 25-year career with the Berkeley Police Department (BPD) on Thursday when she became the agency’s first female captain. 

In a swearing in ceremony at City Hall, Fleming took command of the department’s field support division, which encompasses community service, community policing, special enforcement, and traffic and parking enforcement. Fleming, who six years earlier had become BPD’s first African-American female lieutenant, took the captain’s oath from Police Chief Roy Meisner in front of a room packed with family, colleagues, and friends. 

A Berkeley native who graduated from Oakland Technical High School and UC Berkeley, Fleming acknowledged the significance of her achievement and said she was proud to pave the way for women coming up the ranks. 

“When I came into this department there were very few women in law enforcement,” she said. “I stand on the shoulders of those who came before me, and the 30 other women in this police force are welcome to stand on my shoulders.” 

Fleming, long one of the BPD’s most accomplished officers, never hid her ambition to move up in the organization. She has garnered awards and commendations including the PAL Officer of the Year award in 1993 and the Community Policing Award in 1999, as well as recognition from state Senator Don Perata and special awards from many community groups and churches. In 1999, when St. Mary’s College High School cut its drivers’ education program because of budgetary cuts, Fleming volunteered to teach the class for free, earning a Community Service Award from the city. 

"I do what I do because I wholeheartedly enjoy it," she said. "I like to see the results of what I put in, and that's why I work hard. It gives me energy."  

City residents and colleagues praised Fleming’s commitment to the department, dedication to communication, and strong leadership skills as the qualities which have made her stand out over the years. Meisner said Fleming’s is constantly overflowing with commendations from Berkeley citizens. 

“This selection is no coincidence,” said City Manager Weldon Rucker at the swearing-in ceremony. “Everyone who has ever worked around and in the department knew Captain Fleming’s quality. It was an easy choice.” 

Although the decision to promote Fleming was an easy one for Meisner, Fleming herself said the road to Thursday’s ceremony was rocky at times. When she joined the department in 1978 and found an overwhelmingly male-dominated group, some of whom had trepidation about a woman in the ranks. 

“Whenever I made a promotion there used to be some cloud over it,” she said. “Some of the old guard weren’t quite sure what to think. But amazingly, many of those old guys have come around—they have a whole new mindset.” 

Fleming said she looked forward to bringing a new perspective to administrative meetings, which include the chief, deputy chief, and division captains. As the highest-ranking woman ever in the city’s police force, Fleming broke the reputation of such meetings being a “boys-only” club. 

At Thursday’s swearing-in, Patrol Captain Doug Hambleton commented on the transition it will take to bring a woman into the traditionally male group. 

“We used to call upper-division meetings ‘the big boy staff,’” Hambleton said. “I guess we can’t do that anymore.” 

Fleming herself seemed a bit overwhelmed by the day’s special events. 

“I have these moments where I’m absolutely ecstatic,” she said. “Then the tears start coming. To be a product of this community and then make history in this community is a very powerful thing.” 

One highlight of Thursday’s ceremony came when her son Stephen, a rookie BPD officer, pinned on her new badge while her cousins, nieces and nephews, parents, siblings and children rose in applause. 

“It makes it all the more special to have everyone I love standing around me,” she said. “It’s an honor to be in this position.”