Making history: Lexington’s first African-American female police sergeant

“I knew that I wanted to be the police when I rode with the first female that I saw on the department.”

A college internship with Lexington Police exposed Thomasena Grider to a variety of units, but a ride-along with Officer Jennifer Lube motivated her to take the plunge and apply. Grider remembers Lube pulling over a semi-truck on busy Man o’ War Boulevard, and was impressed with how the officer took control and handled the situation.

“[Lube] got back in the car, and I was like, ‘Yep, I think this is what I want to do,’” Grider recalled.

Now, Grider is also serving as an important female role model. On February 4, 2019, she made history by becoming the department’s first African-American woman promoted to sergeant.

James Perkins was the first African-American at Lexington Police to achieve rank in 1959, and Ida Oplas became the first woman promoted to sergeant in 1967. There are currently six other female officers in supervisory roles across the department.

“I don’t look like 90% of my co-workers. But inside the department, I’ve never felt different,” Grider said. “Even as a patrol officer, some women are the only female in their squad, and they take care of business just like everyone else. That’s what I looked up to when I was first on, and hopefully I’ve learned a lot of those traits so that the newer officers, male or female, can see that in me.”

Prior to her promotion, Grider spent the past four years as a detective in the Special Victims Section’s Crimes Against Children Unit. She is also a member of the Crisis Negotiation Unit. Grider describes helping children as the most rewarding part of her job.

“They are the true victims. This isn’t something where you can call the insurance company and have your things replaced. This is a child where someone has done something.”

During her time as an investigator, there were times when Grider served in a supervisory role. After gaining experience working under pressure and at major scenes, Grider decided to move forward with the police promotional process.

Promoting to sergeant or lieutenant within the police department is voluntary, and it’s a time-intensive and stressful process. Many officers study department policies for months before taking the promotional written exam, which is followed by an oral board interview and a scenario-based assessment. Officers are ranked based on their overall score, and that list of promotional candidates is good for two years as positions become available. When Grider first took the promotional test, the list did not make it to her, so she had to start the entire process over again.

“The promotional process is not an easy one, especially when you have your primary job that you have to do as well,” Grider said. “But you want to do well on the promotional, so you have to pull time to make sure that you’re 100% on both of them.”

Throughout the process, officers reminded Grider of what her promotion would mean, but she didn’t let the historical significance affect her approach. Grider’s efforts paid off during her second round of testing, and she placed second on the sergeant's list. The historic achievement is something Grider has mixed feelings about.

“I’m glad to have that happen. I’m glad to be a part of the history of the department. It’s also a little different feeling, because it’s 2019. So there’s that side of it as well. Hopefully most people will see that we’re making strides toward something different.”

When asked why more officers don’t choose to go through the promotional process, Grider said she thinks many people enjoy the work they’re currently doing, whether that be in patrol or a specialized investigative unit. “Once you become a supervisor, that’s kind of not an option unless you go back and supervise that unit. So a lot of people are just happy where they are,” she said.

As a sergeant, Grider had to leave her day-shift detective assignment and is now assigned to 3rd shift patrol. Working a 10 p.m. –  8 a.m. shift is challenging for anyone, particularly a mother of four. Grider credits her husband, who is also a Lexington police officer, and her family with helping to juggle daily schedules.

Grider says she’s looking forward to working with her new squad, and she’s proud to be a role model for others, male or female. A female officer inspired her to join the department, but Grider knew she had to make her path as well.

“Don’t wait for someone that looks like you to be the person to make that change. If I would have waited for someone that was a minority female, I may not be in the position that I’m in right now.

“If this is something that you’re interested, serving the community, helping people in your community, and making changes within the community you live in, then apply for the job. You can’t necessarily wait for someone else to do it in order for you to jump in and do it yourself. Because if we waited on other people, then a lot of things wouldn’t get done.”