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St. Louis Police Department’s highest-ranking Black woman reflects on her career

Lt. Col Rochelle Jones
Brian Munoz
St. Louis Public Radio
Retired St. Louis Police Lt. Col Rochelle Jones on Wednesday at St. Louis Public Radio’s office.

During her 39-year career with the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department, Lt. Col. Rochelle Jones kept up a busy schedule of activities outside of work, especially with her church and sorority.

That made the adjustment to retired life a bit easier.

“I think it’s very important, no matter what profession you have, you must have other things to do,” Jones said in a recent interview with St. Louis Public Radio. “So I have other things to do, but it just seems very different, not having police department personnel calling, and checking your email, and doing those things that you do.”

The following conversation has been edited 

Rachel Lippmann: You’ve spoken before of how important your Catholic faith was in guiding you to apply for promotions. Did that faith play a role in making the adjustment to retirement, or in the choice to retire at all?

Rochelle Jones: I believe it did. I believe I’m on a path that was set out by God, and when I was in the process of making decisions, I always felt very comfortable, and the majority of the decisions were very clear.

Listen to an extended version of this conversation with Rochelle Jones

Lippmann: You retired as the highest-ranking Black woman in department history. What does that accomplishment mean to you?

Jones; I’m very proud, because the other female officers always say, “We’re so proud of you, and you set the pathway, you set the bar for us,” so that makes me feel good. But sometimes, when I talk about it, it’s like, in 200 years, there’s only been one Black female lieutenant colonel?

Lippmann: You filed suit in 2016 alleging gender discrimination in how the department handled promotions. While the jury did not rule in your favor, do you think the lawsuit pushed the department to change the way it handled promotions?

Jones: Yes. I think it helped the other people who are coming up in leadership. It’s now hey, let’s do the right thing, let’s treat everybody the same. Let’s not treat anyone bad just because of who they are, whether they’re female, they’re Black, they’re white, they’re LGBTQ. Let’s just treat everyone the same.

Lippmann: The department is looking for a new chief. What does it need in a leader at this moment?

Jones: At this moment in history, the possibilities are endless. I think you need a person that has excellent people and communication skills to not only deal with the department, the officers and the civilian employees, but you’ve got to be able to get out and connect with the community.

Retired Lt. Col. Rochelle Jones as a St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department recruit in 19833333
St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department
Retired Lt. Col. Rochelle Jones as a St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department recruit in 1983

Lippmann: Do you think it needs to be a person from outside or inside the department?

Jones: I believe it could go either way, but I think that person has to be a very strong person and be engaged in the community. And they’re going to have to make decisions that some folks are not going to agree with. You have to agree to disagree but seek the insight of those who don’t agree.

Lippmann: What advice would you give to a young woman of color who might be interested in a career in law enforcement?

Jones: Education is key. Community service is key. People skills are key. You need people that you can go to who will tell you, “Man, is that what you did? That was really messed up.”

Lippmann: What is next for civilian Rochelle Jones?

Jones: That sounds funny. (Laughs) I’m not done. I’m not going home to sit in the rocking chair. It’ll be some sort of community service where I can be of service to St. Louis.

Follow Rachel on Twitter: @rlippmann 

Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.

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