Society honors Hegerty

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Nan Hegerty, Milwaukee's first female police chief, spoke Wednesday to members of the Criminology and Law Society about her experience as one of the first female police officers in the city.

Hegerty spoke at the Milwaukee Club, 900 W. Wisconsin Ave., and received the Lex et Justitia award.

According to Mary Ann Farkas, an associate professor of social and cultural sciences, the award is given to a person involved in the justice system who exemplifies the ideals of truth and justice.

Before she spoke, Mayor Tom Barrett briefly appeared and told the audience that he admired the "respect that people who work for her have for her still. We in Milwaukee are proud."

Hegerty said she simply does a job she loves.

"What I find hard to understand is being rewarded for something I love to do," Hegerty said.

Hegerty said she was working a desk job when she saw a television ad asking for police officers, especially women and minorities.

She said when she started in 1976, an experienced officer asked her why she wanted to experience everything that came with being a police officer. She said the bad aspects of the job were not the focus of her work, and it was more important to focus on "people you can help."

She also felt challenged by being one of the first female police officers in the city, but she overcame it.

"Do the best you can, and that leads to acceptance," Hegerty said. "That happened with me."

She said she did not expect to be a police officer, having graduated from college with a degree in elementary education, and suggested that many students may have a similar experience.

"Your lives will take many twists and turns, but make sure you keep your eye on the goal and listen to the little thing inside of you called your conscience," she said.

Hegerty, who also served as a U.S. Marshal appointed by President Bill Clinton in 1994, said she knew how easy it was to go down the wrong path.

When she served on a pardons board a few years before becoming chief, she handled the case of a young man who accidentally pushed another man over a wall. The young man studied law in hopes of becoming a lawyer, but because of his carelessness during the incident, he was convicted of a felony, making it impossible for him to become a lawyer.

Still, she said, she saw hope in the future.

"Stay the course and eventually your lives will turn out to be what you want," Hegerty said.

Those at the speech said they were inspired.

"She's an excellent speaker," said senior Joel Fournier, a criminology major. "It was nice of her to appeal to young people."

Senior Joy Bretz, the treasurer of the Criminology and Law Society, said she found the speech "very inspirational" and liked how Hegerty referred to students as "tomorrow's future."

Also in attendance was 4th District Alderman Bob Bauman. The event was sponsored by the Department of Social and Cultural Sciences.

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