Walking the Same Beat: The First Patrol of Women Officers

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Walking the Same Beat: The First Patrol of Women Officers

On September 10, 1968, Sgt. Betty Blankenship and Sgt. Elizabeth Coffal Robinson of the Indianapolis Police Department became the first female police officers in the country to patrol a beat in the same fashion as their male colleagues. Their experience as trailblazers in the field of law enforcement set the stage for women to advance in the profession.

In honor of Women’s History Month, the National Law Enforcement Museum is hosting a panel discussion with National Association of Women Law Enforcement Executives (NAWLEE) that will feature a look into the present-day experience of female officers from the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department where Sgt. Blankenship and Sgt. Coffal Robinson made those monumental first steps more than five decades ago. The panel will address their experiences as female officers in a modern police department, how their careers have been shaped by Sgt. Blankenship and Sgt. Coffal Robinson’s legacy, and the future of the experience of women in the field of law enforcement.


  • Kym Craven, Executive Director, National Association of Women Law Enforcement Executives (NAWLEE)

Panelists from the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department

  • Deputy Chief Valerie Cunningham
  • Assistant Chief Catherine Cummings
  • Commander Nikole Pilkington
  • Officer Jaylin Harris


Kym Craven

Executive Director, National Association of Women Law Enforcement Executives (NAWLEE)

Kym Craven is the executive director of the National Association of Women Law Enforcement Executives and the director of the Public Safety Strategies Group LLC.

Ms. Craven began her 36-year career at the Lowell, Massachusetts Police Department working in several areas including traffic safety, community engagement, and grants management.

During her career, Ms. Craven has assisted over 400 municipalities (i.e. San Francisco, Boston, New York City, Dallas), state agencies (i.e. Massachusetts, Vermont), and non-profits (i.e. IACP, Major Cities Chiefs, Massachusetts Chief of Police) in reaching their programmatic and organization goals. She specializes in facilitating and conducting organizational assessments; providing strategic planning assistance; increasing recruitment and retention, developing surveys; designing officer safety and wellness programs; creating violence reduction strategies and dashboards, launching co-responder programs; analyzing call for service data; providing staffing analysis; reviewing internal investigations, aligning police district boundary with community needs; writing and managing grants, along with helping agencies implement strategies to build trust with and engage communities. Her passion for ensuring diversity, equity, and inclusion in law enforcement- both internally and externally is reflected in the guidance she provides to agencies.

As the Executive Director of NAWLEE, Ms. Craven is actively involved in many initiatives to increase the number of women in law enforcement, retain the women already working in agencies, and provide support through mentoring, training, and developing recruitment strategies. Two projects Ms. Craven assists with through RTI subgrants include the From Research to Reality research on women in policing and the ASPIRE project which is focused on career pathways. She also is a subject matter expert for the VALOR Project and recently served on a panel at IACP on the topic of Stressors for Women in Law Enforcement.

NAWLEE is a co-founding partner of the 30×30 Initiative and Ms. Craven is a member of the Steering Committee that helped to design the pledge and strategies for the effort. She has spoken at numerous conferences on the topic and has helped countless agencies refine their recruitment strategies.

Ms. Craven is a subject matter expert for the Collaborative Reform Initiative – Technical Assistance Center, and Elevate Blue. As its director, Kym Craven is a subject matter expert to the Department of Justice on recruitment, hiring, and retention through both the CRI-TAC and Elevate Blue projects. She often speaks at national conferences both here in the US and across the globe. The International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) just published an article she co-authored with RTI, on the topic of recruitment and retention of women in law enforcement. In August of 2023, the IACP published another article she co-authored on Mentoring. Through her research, she has amassed information on what is working not just for recruitment and hiring, but more importantly what is working for retention.

Ms. Craven is a subject matter expert for the Collaborative Reform Initiative – Technical Assistance Center, and Elevate Blue. In addition, she represents NAWLEE on the National Suicide Alliance, and the Faith and Blue Weekend Consortium.

Ms. Craven holds a BS in criminal justice from the University of Lowell and a MA in criminal justice from Anna Maria College. A former police officer, Ms. Craven holds certificates in community policing, leadership facilitation, incident command, vulnerability assessments, emergency response planning, terrorism threat assessment, and numerous other criminal justice programs.

Panelists from the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department

Deputy Chief Valerie Cunningham

Valerie Cunningham is the Deputy Chief of the Administration Division for of the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department. In her 31 years of service with the department, she has served in an executive role since 2010. She has served as Deputy Chief of both the Patrol Operations and Administration Division and as Interim Chief of Police (2016-2017).

Deputy Chief Cunningham rose through the ranks. As a Sergeant, she worked as an Internal Affairs Investigator, a district Narcotics Unit Supervisor, a Uniform Patrol Supervisor, and an Executive Officer. As a Lieutenant she worked in the Homeland Security Division, Traffic Branch and Special Events Planning. DC Cunningham is one of only seven women to serve as a motorcycle officer.

DC Cunningham attended Purdue University and holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Exercise Physiology / Movement and Sports Science. She is a graduate of the 240th session of the FBI National Academy and the 48th session of the Senior Management Institute for Police. She is an active member of IACP and FBINAA. She is an active member and past President of the National Association of Women Law Enforcement Executives (NAWLEE).

DC Cunningham previously served as a member of the Officer Safety and Wellness Group, a collaborative working group formed by the COPS Office in partnership with the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA), and the National Consortium on Preventing Law Enforcement Suicide (2019-2024), a National Officer Safety Initiative (NOSI) sponsored by the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) and the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA).

Deputy Chief Cunningham was featured in a 2019 episode of What’s New In Blue, a DOJ COPS office production inspired by TED talks, highlighting the History of Women in Policing.

In her free time, DC Cunningham enjoys golfing, hiking, and travelling.

Assistant Chief Catherine Cummings

For nearly 25 years, Assistant Chief Catherine Cummings has served the residents of Indianapolis.

In that time, she has worked within all the divisions and nearly all the areas of the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department (IMPD).

During her tenure, Assistant Chief Cummings worked as a uniformed officer, investigated homicides as a detective in the Homicide Unit, filled the role of departmental spokesperson (Public Information Officer), supervised young officers on the busiest middle shift of East District, developed the Behavioral Health Unit/Mobile Crisis Assistance Team (MCAT) programs, served as the co-chair for the 2016 national training conference of the National Association of Women Law Enforcement Executives (NAWLEE), worked as the Executive Officer to the Deputy Chief of Administration, became the first woman appointed to Major of the Investigations Division, served as Commander of the IMPD Training Academy, fulfilled the role of Deputy Chief of the Training, Policy, and Oversight Division, and is now an Assistant Chief of Police.

Assistant Chief Cummings holds an undergraduate degree in Journalism and Speech Communications, a Graduate Certificate in Homeland Security and Emergency Management, and an MS in Business Psychology. Previously, she served as an adjunct instructor for Indiana University – Purdue University in Columbus, Indiana (IUPUC) helping to educate young people pursuing careers in public safety.

As a direct result of her diverse assignments and education, Assistant Chief Cummings believes in a collaborative and holistic approach to public safety; an approach pulling upon the expertise of community members, service providers, and those working within the criminal justice system. She believes this approach reserves incarceration for the most violent offenders who are terrorizing our communities; and connects those accused of low-level crimes with much needed medical, quality-of-life, and educational resources.

Assistant Chief Cummings will oversee IMPD’s administrative functions, its training programs, community outreach, recruiting/retention efforts, and modernize its transparency processes. She will manage the design and implementation of the IMPD’s first strategic plan, organize a new area responsible for technology, data, and transparency, and find ways to encourage our most talented young people to stay in the City, and serve with the IMPD. She is a Board Member for Mental Health America of Indiana, Mental Health America of Indianapolis, and was a member of the planning committee which worked to open the Assessment and Intervention Center located at the new Criminal Justice Campus in Indianapolis.

In her free time, AC Cummings enjoys backpacking with her husband, reading, and spending time with their retired greyhound, Hot Pocket, who was adopted through Prison Greyhounds.

Commander Nikole Pilkington

Commander Pilkington joined the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department (IMPD) as part of the 4th IMPD Recruit Class in April of 2008. Upon completion of the FTO program, she was assigned to North District. She began as a patrol officer on North District Day Shift as well as Late Shift.  She served in that role until 2016.  During her tenure, she also worked as a Community Relations Officer.

In 2016, Commander Pilkington transitioned to Investigations initially being assigned to Missing Persons.  In 2017, Commander Pilkington served as the Executive Officer to the Deputy Chief of Investigations.  Pilkington was promoted to Sergeant in 2018 and assigned to the Training Academy as the in-service Coordinator where she over-saw in-service and IDACS.  Pilkington transitioned from In-service to Recruit Training in 2021.  Upon her promotion to Lieutenant in 2023, she was charged with leading the Firearms Training Unit.

Commander Pilkington is a graduate of the 2015 Leadership Academy, ILEA Certified Instructor, as well as a certified instructor for Fair & And Impartial Policing and ABLE (Active Bystandership for Law Enforcement).

Commander Pilkington has served as a Team Leader for the Police Officer Support Team (POST), served on two (2) contract teams, as well as served on the FOP executive board.  Pilkington was a 4-year basketball player at Ball State University where she obtained her Bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice. In addition, Commander Pilkington served as a Juvenile Probation Officer in Marion County for 9 years.

Officer Jaylin Harris

Jaylin Harris is originally from Muskegon, MI., and raised in Fort Wayne, IN. In 2013, she moved to Indianapolis to attend Indiana University. After receiving her bachelor’s degree in Tourism and Event Management, Harris began working as a Detention Deputy at the Marion County Jail. During her three-year tenure at the jail, Officer Harris took on various responsibilities, including those of a Female Book-in Officer, Field Training Officer (FTO), and later transferred to the Intake Center.

In 2021, Officer Harris completed the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department (IMPD) Academy and has since been working for the North District Middle Shift. Since her time of the department, She has joined the Diversity and Inclusion Council. In this role she is able to participate in the reviews of IMPD policies and procedures to make necessary recommendations that address diversity-related policy issues.

A mindset that Officer Harris applies not only in her work as a Patrol Officer but also in her personal life is “I have to answer to God for the energy that I give out.” Whether it’s dealing with friends, family, suspects, or victims. She understands that maintaining respectful energy and standing firm in her morals is crucial, especially in her profession.

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