In Somali culture, women don’t strive to become police officers, Kadra Mohamed said.
On Saturday morning, Mohamed was recognized as the first Somali-American woman to join the St. Paul Police Department, a move made possible by the department’s announcement that it has approved an option for employees to wear a police-issued hijab.
“It’s nerve-racking in a way,” Mohamed, 21, said of being the first woman of Somali descent in the department. “I want to be a good role model for others, especially Somali women.”
Mohamed was recognized at the police’s Western District building during a graduation ceremony for youth who recently completed the East African Junior Police Academy.
Police Chief Thomas Smith said St. Paul joins at least one other department — in Washington, D.C. — as the only departments in the U.S. to allow the hijab, a head scarf worn in public by some Muslim women.
A criminal justice senior at St. Cloud State University and a St. Paul Central High School graduate, Mohamed said she contacted St. Paul police a few months ago to learn about becoming an officer. She said she expressed concerns over not being able to wear a hijab on duty. In Islam, females may wear the hijab as a form of modesty and cultural identity, and Mohamed wears it as part of her daily dress.
In December, the police service in Edmonton, Ontario, approved the option for female officers of Muslim faith to wear a police-issued hijab. St. Paul police Sgt. Tina Kill said St. Paul police contacted the Edmonton police, and they provided input on a hijab suitable for duty — the final product of which Mohamed wore at Saturday’s ceremony.
Mohamed said the hijab was carefully made so that it would not impair her from performing any duties. One row of buttons runs horizontally along the sides of her head, connecting the top half to a scarf that tightly hugs her neck. The buttons can snap off easily, she said, in case a criminal tried to pull the cloth around her neck.
St. Paul police efforts to recruit within the Somali-American community have been underway since 2004, which laid the groundwork for the African Immigrant Muslim Community Outreach Program in 2009. Funded largely by a two-year federal grant, AIMCOP received $670,679 to develop mentoring programs with the Muslim and Somali communities, an athletic league and meetings at mosques and community centers to discuss crime prevention.
The Twin Cities have the nation’s largest Somali-American population. Garaad Sahal was St. Paul’s first — and only — Somali-American police officer, joining in late 2012.
Born in Kenya, Mohamed grew up and lives part-time in St. Paul’s West Side with her mother, who fled the ongoing civil war in Somalia and lived in a Kenyan refugee camp before coming to the U.S. with her daughter.
Mohamed said she is planning to enroll in a police academy to receive officer training after she graduates from St. Cloud State in May. After that, she said, she will apply to become an officer.
Some of her tasks as a liaison officer include assisting officers in criminal investigations and extending outreach within the Somali community to bridge cultural gaps, she said.
“She’s going to be a trendsetter,” Smith said.
As part of the St. Paul police’s commitment to establishing and bolstering relationships within the Twin Cities’ Somali community, 23 children and young adults, most of whom have East African origins, were recognized at the graduation ceremony for completing a monthlong East African Junior Police academy. Forty had signed up for the program, and 12 were absent at Saturday’s ceremony.
The St. Paul Police Department regularly holds citizen academies, including those for youth, but this was the first one geared toward East African youth.
One of the academy’s four female graduates, Faisa Mohamed, 18, said Kadra Mohamed will serve as a role model for young Somali-American women who perhaps had not considered becoming an officer until now, in part because of cultural differences.
Intisam Moosa, another academy graduate, said: “Now if (female Somalis) see her, they will think, ‘What makes her any different than me?’ ”
Twin Cities – Raya Zimmerman can be reached at 651-228-5524. Follow her at Twitter.com/RayaZimmerman.