Jana Monroe never waited for an invitation. As one of the first female sworn officers in California policing, Monroe was “pretty much an anomaly” in her own words. At first she was given traditionally feminine roles – looking after children at an arrest, dealing with juvenile offenders, and talking to female victims, but Monroe wanted more out of the job.
“I would always volunteer,” recalled Monroe, “So, somebody [would ask] want to put the handcuffs on? Want to make the arrest? W[ant] to do the interview? I always was willing…” It was that willingness to do anything and everything that allowed Monroe to get so much experience in her first years as a police officer. She worked the “gamut” of violations from gang work to homicides to fraud cases.
In 1973, the FBI, under a new director, allowed women to enter the ranks of special agent. Monroe was interested in the challenges of being a federal officer, but her then husband was against the idea. When she planned to enter the academy, he gave her an ultimatum, “It’s either me or the FBI.” Monroe’s response was simple, “Okay, I’m going in the FBI.”
Monroe was assigned to the Tampa, Florida office—a bank robbery hotspot at that time. She remembers, “We had probably seven to eight bank robberies a week.” The Reactive Squad was the primary unit assigned to these dangerous cases. Of course, Monroe saw it as the squad to be on and approached the Special Agent in Charge (SAC). “Well, we’ve never had a female on it before,” was his response to which she said, ‘That doesn’t sound like a good reason to me.”
While Monroe was enjoying the high-intensity cases with the Reactive Squad, her goal was always to serve in the FBI’s prestigious Behavioral Science Unit (BSU). In the 1990s, Monroe became the first female BSU special agent working alongside John Douglas and Roy Hazelwood. The BSU used the “think tank” approach to profile serial, mass and spree type killers. It’s become recognizable today from movies like Silence of the Lambs and TV shows like Criminal Minds. Of the work she said, “I think if you look at serial killer behavior…it’s something that’s compelling and repulsive at the same time.”
Monroe held several administrative FBI positions before retiring to the private sector. For women in law enforcement, Monroe sees much more opportunities than in the early days. “I think the extreme proving of oneself that I know I need[ed] to go through…in the pioneer time, it’s dissipated.” Today, Monroe encourages the female law enforcement officers she mentors to volunteer for jobs just like she did. Read Jana Monroe’s full interview and find more first-hand accounts of law enforcement history in our Museum Oral History Collection.