Women advance in area law enforcement agencies

Deputy Robyn Roe is first female SWAT operator for San Juan County Sheriff’s Office

Joshua Kellogg
Farmington Daily Times
  • About 12 percent of full-time sworn personnel in police departments in 1987 were women.
  • The Farmington Police Department recently named its first female lieutenant in about 18 years.
  • The second annual Southwest Women in Law Enforcement conference takes place this week.
San Juan County Sheriff's Office Deputy Robyn Roe recently became the first female SWAT operator for the department.

AZTEC — Deputy Robyn Roe understands why it was a big accomplishment in the eyes of some people for her to become the first female SWAT operator for the San Juan County Sheriff’s Office. But for her, it was nothing to get excited about.

Roe's addition to the SWAT team is one example of a woman advancing to a new role in a San Juan County law enforcement agency. It also reflects the increased role of women in police departments across the country.

As a member of the Army National Guard, Roe served a tour in Afghanistan in 2013 and 2014, where she served as a motor transportation operator.

She would escort Afghans from base to base during convoy escort missions. She recently finished a six-year enlistment and re-enlisted for another six-year term in June.

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While enrolled at Alexandria Technical and Community College in Alexandria, Minn., Roe was recruited by members of the San Juan County Sheriff's Office. She joined the police academy in fall 2015 and graduated from the academy in February 2016.

Part of the reason Roe chose to become a SWAT operator was due to her military background. She cited the team- and family-based atmosphere in the Army National Guard as similar to the bond she built with the SWAT operators as she started attending their training sessions.

"I built a relationship with all the guys," Roe said. "They welcomed me in, and I never had any issues with them."

The SWAT assessment includes a physical fitness and firearms test, along with an interview.

"I don't feel like I'm doing anything special," Roe said. "But I understand that it is a big accomplishment, but personally, I don't think it is."

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A 2015 report from the U.S. Department of Justice showed that about 58,000, or 12 percent, of full-time sworn personnel in police departments were women.

That was an increase from 1987, when about 27,000, or 8 percent, of full-time sworn personnel in police departments were women.

The Farmington Police Department recently named its first female lieutenant in about 18 years, according to spokeswoman Georgette Allen. Lt. Sierra Tafoya of the professional standards division was promoted in July after serving as a sergeant working the graveyard shift on patrol.

She was excited about the promotion.

Sierra Tafoya recently became the Farmington Police Department's first female lieutenant in about 18 years.

"I didn't think I would be here today," Tafoya said. "I knew that I wanted to do different things in the agency, and that's what I've done."

Since joining the force in 2008, she also has worked in the traffic division as a DWI enforcement officer, where she trained officers on conducting field sobriety tests and community outreach.

Tafoya also trained to become a drug recognition expert, a field that focuses on spotting drug impairment of drivers.

There was a year and a half stint where Tafoya was a member of the Region II Narcotics Task Force.

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"I learned very quickly that I didn't like sitting behind a desk, and I wanted to do something where every day was unpredictable," Tafoya said about joining the police department.

It was a little difficult for Tafoya when she started as an officer. She said she held herself to a higher level of expectations then, as she felt singled out because there was a lack of female officers in the county.

San Juan County Sheriff's Office Deputy Robyn Roe is an Army National Guard veteran who served two tours of Afghanistan.

"Working at night is what I've worked primarily throughout my career. (I) was only female (officer) working in the entire county," Tafoya said. "Now we're growing in numbers, and there are more women joining the law enforcement family."

Farmington police have 16 full-time sworn female officers, up from about six or seven female officers who were on staff when Tafoya started.

Supporting women in law enforcement is one of the reasons Tafoya is the chair of the planning committee for the second annual Southwest Women in Law Enforcement conference.

The three-day event is being presented by the Farmington Police Department this week at the Farmington Civic Center. This year's theme focuses on fitness and nutrition, including physical and mental health, according to Tafoya.

One of the presentations is a one-day course that focuses on the reality of serving as a woman in law enforcement. It covers such topics as use of force, training and equipment, gender-specific issues, and the importance of mentoring female officers, according to the conference website.

Networking with other female officers is a key competent of the conference, as other conferences tend to be dominated by male officers, Tafoya said.

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When asked about the importance of the representation of women in law enforcement, Tafoya replied that women interested in becoming a cop should focus on their own personal goals and not let anything hold them back because of their gender.

Rowe said she would tell women interested in law enforcement it's a male-dominated profession, but they can do anything they set their minds to.

Joshua Kellogg covers crime, courts and social issues for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4627.