Denver’s female first responders hope to set example, encourage more women to apply

DENVER -- A new group of Denver Police Department cadets spend their Friday afternoon sprawled out on a gym floor, gasping for air after two minutes of straight push-ups.

Five years ago, Teresa Gillian was one of those exhausted cadets.

"My dad was an officer when I was little, and I've always had a lot of respect for the job," Gillian said. "My dad was actually an officer for five years, and my goal is to beat him."

Gillian is now a community resource officer in Denver's 6th district, and can't imagine doing anything else. She says she loves engaging with people who care about their community. Now, about five years into the job, it looks like she'll eclipse her father's law enforcement career, and that competitive spirit is something she hopes all female cadets have.

"You can train to be faster, you can train to be stronger," Gillian said.

Overall, 13 percent of Denver police officers are women, according to the department. But since 2015, including this recruiting class, women make up 23 percent of all new officers hired. Gillian says it's important to have women in law enforcement to bring a different perspective.

"I'm also a wife and a mother, so kind of all of those qualities help me with a job to effectively talk people down, to get to the root of the problem," Gillian said.

While the Denver Fire Department doesn't have the same ratio of women joining the department, it has seen more women go through the academy in recent years.

"We're never going to be 50 percent women, but we are trying to represent the city of Denver," said Lt. Tonya Kesterson. "We're changing the culture and it's part of Denver. It's part of who we are."

Kesterson says the department is closer to 4-5 percent women, but it's committed to finding the best people for the job. She says a big motivating factor for her getting into firefighting was strong role models who would volunteer in her hometown.

Kesterson and Gillian both hope they can serve as even stronger role models for young girls in Denver.

"I would encourage her to follow her dreams," Gillian said. "I would let her know that she can do it."

The Denver Sheriff Department said 26 percent of its deputies are women.

Denver's Department of Public Safety says 25 percent of its employees across the board are women.

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