Informed that she is the first female assistant chief of police in Columbus State University’s 59-year history, Laura Bennett welcomed the news.
“It’s pretty great,” Bennett told the Ledger-Enquirer in an interview Thursday, her fourth day on the job. “I met with some of the criminology professors yesterday, and I’m hoping to get in the classrooms to maybe encourage some of the female students to look toward active administrative roles in police departments.”
Before joining CSU Monday, Bennett had spent her entire 28-year police career at the University of West Georgia, where she reached the rank of lieutenant in her hometown of Carrollton. She sought a higher-level position because she wants to “have more impact.”
Bennett replaces Mark Lott, who was promoted to chief in May after serving as interim chief since November, when Rus Drew left the post he held for 10 years to take a similar position with Emory University. Lott was one of Bennett’s instructors at CSU’s Command College, where she earned her certificate in police management in 2015.
"We are very excited to have Laura on board to join our great team of law enforcement officers here at Columbus State University,” Lott said in CSU’s news release. “I am confident her extensive experience and training will be a valuable resource in working with students, faculty and staff to continue to provide a safe environment in our campus communities.”
Bennett called CSU “a perfect fit” for her. “There’s a family-oriented nature in the department,” she said. “Every day, it feels a little more like home.”
She is one of six women among the 26 officers in the CSU Police Department. A July 2013 report on the U.S. Department of Justice website says women started becoming police officers in the early 20th Century but accounted for only 2 percent in the 1970s and now are 13 percent of the force. No statistics seem to be available to determine how rare it is for a police department to have female assistant chief, but an April 2008 New York Times article reported that only 1 percent of all police chiefs are female.
Bennett acknowledged the gender issue has made her job “more challenging.” She overcomes that challenge not by ignoring the bias but “pushing through. You just do your job and do it to the best of your ability.”
To those who suggest physical requirements should be eased for female police officers, Bennett says, “The physical requirements are what’s necessary for the job. I don’t think we should lessen them. If you can’t lift 50 pounds, maybe this isn’t the career for you. If you can’t do 20 pushups, maybe this isn’t the career for you. I don’t believe in lessening standards.”
But she praised the department’s two captains, Jeremy Reddish and Jay Youngblood, as being “amazing so far. I do not get the indication that they look at me as, ‘Oh, it’s a female in the officer.’ They respect my experience and opinion.”
Bennett explained why she enjoys being a police officer.
“I like the law enforcement,” she said. “I like the service. I like the people. … As police officers, I can interact with someone and we’re not best friends or we don’t get along, but when we’re out on a call, I have their back and they have my back, and it is complete confidence that person is there for you.”
She also explained why she enjoys being a police officer on a college campus.
“Most people are at the university to improve themselves,” she said. “If they get a little off the course, there’s often ways we can help correct that path, whether it be through Student Affairs or the legal system or sometimes getting parents involved. We can get them back on course. And that’s the goal: We want successful students. If we can’t get them back on course, then we part ways. The student finds another avenue for their education. So it’s win-win: We get them on course, or we help them find a new course.”
Asked about fear being a factor, Bennett said that comes more after incidents. She recalled arresting a “very emotional young guy” who busted the windows of his girlfriend’s car.
“He had a huge rock in a sock,” she said, “and I was the first one to get to him.”
She managed to take the makeshift weapon away from him, but shards of glass that were stuck in the sock cut her hand. After she handcuffed him and got him in the back of her police car, she took a deep breath and started shaking after the adrenaline wore off.
“It’s business, business, business, but then you can have the fear reaction after the fact,” she said.
Bennett was a homemaker while her husband was an officer in the Carrollton Police Department.
“I was amazed at the camaraderie that he had with his shift, and I thought I could enjoy that,” she said.
She noticed West Georgia had a security officer vacancy, so she decided, “I’ll give it a try and see where it goes. Then I started and just kept going.”
Bennett graduated from the Southern Police Institute’s administrative officer course at the University of Louisville in 2016. She earned a bachelor’s degree in criminology from the University of West Georgia also in 2016 and has certifications in areas such as management, supervision, training, firearms instruction, defensive tactics instruction, and health and wellness instruction.
In 2006, she was selected as the first officer from a university police department to the FBI’s Police Executive Law Enforcement Fellowship. She also was sworn in as a U.S. Federal Marshall with oversight of the Region 1 Field Information Group and worked for six months at the FBI headquarters in Washington.