Young girls aged 10 to 17 from the Police Athletic League’s Positive Images program were on hand at Rizzo PAL Center last Monday night for a special presentation from both the Philadelphia Police Department’s acting commissioner, Christine Coulter, and the assistant deputy commissioner of the Philadelphia Fire Department, Crystal Yates. Coulter and Yates talked to the girls about being a woman in a male-dominated field. Coulter spoke first.
“Growing up, I wasn’t a PAL kid,” she said. “I didn’t have those opportunities, but I was an athlete. I played softball and basketball and volleyball and flag football and soccer.”
Coulter said that she knew being a police officer was the job for her only five days into the police academy. She said she had aspirations to become a commissioner, but didn’t consider her gender while doing so.
“At the end of the day, I didn’t want to be a woman police commissioner,” she said. “I just wanted to be a police commissioner.”
Coulter stressed the importance of making good life decisions and being smart around strangers. Sometimes, she explained, poor life decisions can prevent you from ever becoming a police officer.
“If you ever sell drugs to anyone, you can never be a police officer,” she said. “These are lifetime bans for something that you might not even be thinking about.”
Whenever Coulter eventually decides to retire from policing, she said she wanted to become an elementary school teacher.
“It’s something I always wanted to do before I decided to become a police officer,” she said. “It’s too late for me to find the cure for cancer, but it’s not too late for me to teach the person who does. So when I stop policing, if I teach someone and give them that spark and that love for science and finding things out and discovering, to me that would be the greatest reward.”
Upon the conclusion of Coulter’s talk, she let the girls ask her questions. Unsurprisingly, Coulter got lots of questions about being a member of law enforcement. She was asked if the police station is always busy (most of the 21 police districts are, yes, but some are slower), what her department’s biggest challenges are (violence and the opioid crisis) and her opinions on myths about police officers (just because some cops do bad things doesn’t mean every cop is bad; “I would never want to paint everyone with that same brush,” she said. “We also don’t hang out in doughnut shops”).
While Coulter got many questions about being a person in law enforcement, she conspicuously didn’t get a single question about being a woman in law enforcement. Does it mean that kids today don’t see women in powerful positions as such an unusual thing?
“I hope so,” Coulter told the Star privately after her talk. “I hope they see people based upon their qualifications and not their gender or race.”
Coulter told Star she didn’t really have many female role models growing up – only males ones.
“Positive role models can look like anything,” she said.
When it was Yates’ turn to talk, she vowed to “make a big deal” out of Coulter’s status as the first female police commissioner in the Philadelphia Police Department’s history.
“This lady is the first woman that’s in charge of the whole police department,” said Yates. “In this whole country, there are only eight others like she is in big cities.”
Before asking the girls what they wanted to be when they grew up, Yates talked to them about her experience growing up, going to college, dropping out, and how her father convinced her to go to paramedic school.
“So I went to school, graduated, got on the fire department, absolutely fell in love,” she said. “Let me tell you the fire department is the best job in the world.”