Video: Massachusetts women make history

By Anne Thompson Chief environmental correspondent
NBC News
updated 2/14/2005 8:04:41 PM ET 2005-02-15T01:04:41

You could call them the big three, the very top law enforcement jobs in the Bay State of Massachusetts. And right now all three jobs are filled by women. It’s a law enforcement hat trick that was no easy trick to pull off in a tough business.

Boston, Mass., is a city and state where history has long been made, and these three women are the latest chapter. Boston police commissioner Kathleen O'Toole leads the nation's oldest department. Suffolk county sheriff Andrea Cabral is in charge of 2,500 inmates and Massachusetts corrections commissioner Kathleen Dennehy oversees 18 prisons across the state. Each is the first woman to hold her position.

Do they look at each other in amazement and think, "Wow, how did we get here?" In fact, they feel just the opposite.

”I look at Kathy O'Toole and Kathy Dennehy and say, ‘It's about time,’ not amazement,” says Cabral.

“I think it's the natural progression of things,” says O’Toole. “You know, women have paid their dues. Women have come through the ranks. And now women are assuming leadership positions.”

“I am amazed,” says Dennehy. “When I first entered the department, there were so few women in positions of leadership.”

Each has had a difficult first year. Cabral was appointed to her job in the wake of a corruption scandal, then ran for election, beating a long time politician. In her first year, O'Toole faced a spike in shootings, the Democratic Convention, and the death of a celebrating Red Sox fan. Dennehy took over after the prison killing of former priest John Geoghan and deals with daily staffing issues.

Their positions are 24-7, so there is no such thing as the end of a shift. And they say they’re probably adrenaline addicts, too.

“But I think we've all developed the skill to be able to answer the beeper in the middle of the night, do what you have to do, and then go back to sleep,” says Dennehy. “This is a skill.”

They say it does matter that they’re talking to a woman as opposed to a man when they pick up the phone and call each other.

“It makes a difference that we're talking to professionals,” says O’Toole. “We've somewhat come up through the ranks together.”

“I think that there's more common ground for discussion and breaking down the turf,” says Dennehy.

“I think if we have one message it's that change is good. We are expected to make changes,” says Cabral.

The Boston Globe wrote that the three together are landmarks, an unprecedented trio.

“I think it's humbling,” says O’Toole.

“I just feel the weight of my gender and my race, with everything that I do. But I don't see it as a burden,” says Cabral.

In fact, all three see this as an opportunity.

“I came from a very ordinary background,” says O’Toole. “I was a very ordinary kid. If I've become police commissioner, then, you know, most kids out there can do just about anything they want to do.”

And in this case, add another page to history.

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