Waterford police name first female lieutenant
Waterford — Police work always lingered in the back of Nicole VanOverloop's mind — ever since officers gave presentations on everything from K-9 units to combating drunken driving to her Problems in Democracy class during her senior year at Waterford High School.
The Waterford athlete, who later played basketball at Eastern Connecticut State University, said being a cop "fit that idea of not being tucked down to a desk, and out doing different stuff."
But the criminal law classes at Eastern were at night when she needed to play ball. So VanOverloop, now a 41-year-old mother of two, decided to apply her bachelor's degree in psychology to a career in early childhood education, getting long-term substitute teaching gigs at several area schools. Despite enjoying working with kids, she realized it wasn't quite the right fit.
So she applied for a job with her hometown police department, and was hired in 2002.
Seventeen years later — including seven years as a school resource officer at the high school where she was first inspired — she's now the first female lieutenant in Waterford.
"Somebody had to be the first," said VanOverloop, who was pinned as lieutenant on Aug. 13. "It's an honor to have achieved that and I hope maybe in achieving that, it shows some of the other women in this field that there is a place for us to move up the ladder in law enforcement. But at the same time ... I feel I'm just as qualified and just as deserving. I don't want to hang my hat on gender."
Chief Brett Mahoney said he understood the significance of the first woman to reach the rank of lieutenant, describing law enforcement as "a male-dominated field" throughout the state and country.
"But I think that's changing. With our hiring, I don't care if they're purple. We need representation of the community," Mahoney said. He added that he told VanOverloop before she was promoted that, "I don't consider you a 'female' lieutenant. You got the job because you deserve the job."
Of the department's 49 officers, six are female, Mahoney said.
"Women are ascending to rank throughout the state," he said, citing Regina Rush-Kittle, who long served in the state police and was eventually a commanding officer of a barracks and district. She is currently deputy commissioner of the Division of Emergency Management and Homeland Security.
Former Sgt. Dana Seymour — the first woman to attain the rank of sergeant in Waterford — retired in 2018 after 27 years with the department. VanOverloop said Seymour was a mentor and an inspiration. Seymour could not be reached for comment.
"She was one of the first females in the early '90s to get hired. When they made her sergeant, we were 10 years apart in our careers, and I wanted to take it further," VanOverloop said.
VanOverloop served as Waterford High's school resource officer for seven years starting in 2006 — combining her educational background with her desire for service.
"That experience was invaluable," she said. "Now a lot of those kids range from like early 20s to 30s and it's been so helpful when they run into some hard things that come up or just have a distrust of police. But I already have that relationship with them from when they were kids. It smooths things over."
In 2013, she was named an investigator, working alongside police detectives and "taking in the gamut of it."
"You got the burglaries and higher-end computer stuff, larcenies that have higher monetary value, and I definitely specialized with sexual assault cases," she said. "A lot of my coursework and trainings revolved around interviewing victims and a lot of job satisfaction came out of that."
When a patrol sergeant position opened up a few years later, she went for it and got it — forcing her to shift back to the mindset of her first couple years on the force as a patrol officer.
"I had good squads that I trusted, who were doing the right thing," she said, also applauding support from her husband, Garon, a 35-year-old mechanic for the town. "It allowed me to grow into a leadership role."
Her psychology and education background, she said, also have served her well, especially in a job where "people skills are so important."
"Nothing against the criminal justice background but I'm glad for what I have," she said. "It forced me to do student teaching and go out in front of people, and I know how to put lesson plans together so when I was a school resource officer, I could go do a class."
She said her favorite part of the job — which became a bit more administrative with the promotion — is "working for the community that I live in. There's that self-satisfaction that my kids go to school here. And I get to work the basketball games or football games and my husband might help out. My job means something in the community. My parents live here. My grandparents live here."
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