Newly elected Jefferson County Sheriff Zena Stephens was honored March 2, 2017 at the Women’s Council for Leadership and Service Women’s History Month kick-off event. Each year, the WCLS hosts a month’s worth of events in honor of Women’s History Month. This year’s theme is, Honoring Trailblazing Women in Labor and Business. Stephens is the first African-American female to hold the position of Sheriff in the state of Texas.
Women’s History Month is special to Stephens because it celebrates strong women. She said when she grew up, the women in her life had to do hard things to help her get to where she is now. “It’s something I achieved on the shoulders and backs of some strong people,” said Stephens. She credits her grandmother for helping her achieve such a significant achievement. Stephens’ grandmother raised five children and fourteen grandchildren, “You did not hear a lot of whining and complaining,” said Stephens, “They did hard work that no one wanted to do to make sure we were educated and fed.” Although her grandmother was not rich, Stephens said she never knew she was poor because she was reared with a lot of love. “I watched her take care of us and lead us as a matriarch,” said Stephens.
While Stephens served as the PVAMU Chief of Police, she was able to gain students’ perspective on law enforcement and their opinion of the system. “It gave me the opportunity to sit quietly and observe,” said Stephens. On any given day, there were students in her office engaging in conversation. The exchanges were beneficial for both parties. She was able to provide the students with her perspective on why police “do some of the things they do”. “I don’t think on any college campus they would have had the access to a police chief that they had to me,” said Stephens, “They wouldn’t have had the opportunity to vent without punitive sanctions given by me.”
Stephens is a mother herself and said her nurturing spirit helped during her time at PVAMU. She wanted to prevent more individuals from going into the criminal justice system. “Every kid that does something dumb is not a criminal,” said Stephens, “and I understand that.” Stephens said some of the most rewarding lessons she learned while being at PVAMU was learning to be more patient. “My experience here made me a better person, police officer and will make me a better Sheriff.” said Stephens.
Although new to the position, Stephens is looking forward to her role as Jefferson County Sheriff. “I want to make sure what I see across the country does not happen in the county where I am the Sheriff,” said Stephens. She is currently diversifying her agency by recruiting and hiring minorities from all communities. “You’re less likely to victimize people who you can relate to,” said Stephens, “I think it’s important to have those qualified individuals as a part of my agency.”
Stephens believes there are criteria that individuals need to have in this new era of policing. She has been doing things differently and is finding the community to be receptive. Because she thinks police officers should demonstrate compassion and the ability to communicate, Stephens encourages her officers to roll down their window and interact with the community. “You have to be a part of the community,” said Stephens, “You can’t just police the community you serve.”
After making a brief speech, the WCLS presented Sheriff Stephens with a token of appreciation. “I always enjoy being here,” said Stephens, “it feels like home”. Congratulations to Sheriff Zena Stephens for being elected the first female African-American Sheriff in the State of Texas.
Written by Jourdan B. Scruggs