Our greatest trailblazers in law enforcement are often the heroes of our own communities who are currently leaving their mark on history.
Zena Stephens is the recently re-elected sheriff of Jefferson County, Texas, and she remains one of the only two African American female sheriffs in the United States. Stephens began her law enforcement career in 1989, working as a patrol officer and teaching crime prevention with the local DARE program for the Beaumont Police Department in Beaumont, Texas. In 1997, she moved to the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department—the same department she now leads—beginning as an Internal Affairs Investigator before rising through the ranks to become the county’s first female major, and then later, deputy sheriff. Her tenure with the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department was only paused when she was appointed chief of the Prairie View A&M University Police—becoming the department’s first female chief. In 2016, Sheriff Stephens won the election for sheriff in Jefferson County, returning to that department in the top seat as, not only the county’s first Black sheriff, but also the first woman to hold the post.
Sheriff Stephens leads her officers with a passion for changing the face of law enforcement by building relationships with the community. She has established a professional culture in her agencies built on leading her employees by example and encouraging them to continue to improve themselves through training, with an emphasis on personal growth. When asked about her goals for her second term as Jefferson County sheriff, she told Beaumont’s KMBC 12 News that she is focused on mental health inside Jefferson County’s correctional facilities. As a sheriff who cares about those citizens who are both walking free and behind bars, she says, “We’re just recycling people into the system right now, and a lot of them have never had a mental health diagnosis, a lot of them have never even had medical treatment, and so getting them the resources they need to get well, they don’t belong in jail.” (Source: 12News)
Throughout her career, Sheriff Stephens has developed and implemented policies and procedures to ensure good order and discipline within her agency that will benefit the community at large. She responded during several high-profile emergencies including hurricanes and the tragic Jefferson County Court House shooting in 2012.
Sheriff Stephens’ work within the field of law enforcement and her impact on her community has been recognized both in Jefferson County and beyond, earning awards that include the “Remarkable Women” award from Theodore John’s Library (2006); the “Changing the World One Cause at A Time ” award from the Pioneering Women (2008); and a “Women of the Year Award” from the Beaumont Branch of the National Association of University Women (2011).
Black Trailblazers in Blue is created in partnership between the National Law Enforcement Museum and the National Black Police Association to celebrate the triumphs of African American leaders in Law Enforcement.