SPPD honors first female offficer

In a room filled with pictures of the St. Paul Police Department's past, there is now a portrait of a woman who made history.

"There were a lot of challenges. Being the first and having to get my fellow officers to work with a woman. There were times when no one wanted to work with me, " Debbie Montgomery said.

Additionally, Montgomery was the first teenager elected to the board of the National NAACP.

Then, after marching with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Washington DC and Selma, Alabama in the 60's, she became the first woman to be sworn in as a St. Paul Police officer in 1975.

She had to take a $10,000 pay cut from her job as a city planner in the Mayor's office, and wear a wig in her rookie picture because with her short hair, all the people she met on the street in her uniform called her sir.

"I was going to quit after the 21-week academy because I only joined to get the academy started, but then I said maybe I don't want this job but maybe there is a woman who wants it and if I quit they are going to say you can't do it. So then it wasn't about me anymore. It was about the bigger picture," Montgomery said.

Over the next three decades, Montgomery worked her way up through the mostly male, mostly white department, before retiring as a senior commander in 2003.

Her specialty was working with children. She raised four or her own kids and three of them went into law enforcement, like their mom.

"It was about community service and I taught them you have to give back. No matter how old you are," said Montgomery.

Montgomery continued her community service as a member of the city council after she retired.

But her biggest contribution is helping her former department look more like the people it serves.

"We've come a long way since then but want to grow and make sure we are reflective of the community."