COLUMBUS, Ga. (WRBL)— As Black History Month comes to a close, Black History will continue to live on and resonate for decades to come. News 3 had the opportunity to sit down with Columbus Police Department’s (CPD) Assistant Chief of Police, Joyce Dent-Fitzpatrick, the first woman of color to be appointed to the position.
Dent-Fitzpatrick’s career in the police force started across the river in Phenix City. At the time Dent-Fitzpatrick says she was in college, a single mother going through a divorce, and although she did not have a degree she did have a lot of education under her belt.
“They gave me a chance, and then the back story to that is that I applied to the Columbus Police Department in 1983 or ’84, and I got denied the job. So in ’87 I said ‘I’m going to try again,’ and I was more determined, and more focused, and I got hired,” says Dent-Fitzpatrick.
Leaving Phenix City as a detective, Dent-Fitzpatrick’s career started with CPD as a Patrol Officer. In 2001 she was selected as the officer of the year. Before her position as assistant chief she served varying roles including sergeant, police recruiter, lieutenant, commander, and captain. Now, Assistant Chief Dent-Fitzpatrick oversees the The Administration Bureau
When asking Dent-Fitzpatrick what her journey was like navigating through various positions in the department as a woman of color, she says the journey is far from over, but she reflects on how far she has come.
“I can tell you it was tough. It was very hard,” Dent-Fitzpatrick says. “We work in a majority male dominated world and police departments are mainly male dominated, but we are seeing a shift in a trend of empowering women to tell them that they can do this job.”
Dent-Fitzpatrick also commended the women that came before her both in her family and in the police department saying she did not get to where she is today alone.
“I came from a very, very strong background from my great-grandmother, to my grandmother, to my mom and dad. I didn’t get here by myself. They paved the way to make sure that I got the education I needed and got the tools that I needed to be successful. They were maids, custodians, washers, they just did low task, medial jobs so they can make sure that I went to school and to make sure I got to where they wanted me to be. And I’m pushing for, well, where I want other people to be,” Dent-Fitzpatrick adds.
One woman who inspires Dent-Fitzpatrick is Josephine McClenney, the first woman of color to retire from the police department with full benefits, who started in the department as a meter maid. Dent-Fitzpatrick says this is a milestone oftentimes women don’t make it to in the police force.
“There has been so many trailblazers and people who have paved the way. We had Josephine McClenney, she was the first black female to ever retire. Now that says a lot. She made it to the age of retirement, and a lot of women don’t make it because we quit. The struggle does get hard, and it is real. But you just have to be focused on what you are doing and what your assignment is. And I applaud her because she was the first one who made it all the way through to retirement,” Dent-Fitzpatrick shares.
Dent-Fitzpatrick applauds another woman who she looks up to, Deputy Chief Wanna Barker-Wright. In 2002, she became the first African-American woman to be appointed to police major. She was also the first African-American woman to be promoted to captain as well.
“She was here in the seventies and she’s still here,” Dent-Fitzpatrick commends. “She has a stellar career. 46 years, I believe, of being here for other females, to come to this department. So my heart goes out to those ladies.”
Dent-Fitzpatrick says being the first woman of color to serve as assistant chief of police is more than a position. She spoke to what it means to her, particularly to be the first.
“It means that I have and duty, it means that I have accepted my assignment, and my assignment was from God. And so I’m going to fulfill the assignment, not the position,” Dent-Fitzpatrick confirms. “I’m fulfilling the assignment, and it means a lot to me. Because there is a lot of people, who are looking to me to succeed, and there’s just the same amount that are looking to me to fail. So I focus on the people who are positive, and it means a lot to me to have this position.”
As Dent-Fitzpatrick is looking to follow the legacies of the women that have come before her, she spoke words of wisdom to other women of color looking to join the police force.
“Keep pushing, keep striving, do not give up. You are going to have some setbacks. And it’s going to be many setbacks, it’s going to be people who are doubting you, and your friendship and your social circle will shrink. You will see the crap mentality, you will see people patting you on the back, hoping you succeed, you will also have that same hand patting you on the back, hoping that you will fail. So my advice is that you have to focus on what your assignment is. And don’t worry about what other people are saying or doing, you continue on your path. You make sure that you do what your assignment has been given to you to do, and don’t ever, ever look back. Keep moving forward,” Dent-Fitzpatrick shares.
Across the department, Dent-Fitzpatrick says Black History at the CPD looks like a step forward. When remembering Black History in the department, Dent-Fitzpatrick recalled serving under former Police Chief Willie Dozier, who in 2000 became the department’s first African-American Police Chief.
“He really wanted to bring a police department together and have that camaraderie with the citizens. And he wanted to bring unity. He promoted the first black female major, Major Barker-Wright, who paved the way for me and my appointment came in 2020, so I am striving to pave the way and lift up someone else and make sure that we continue at what Chief Dozier had put in place,” Dent-Fitzpatrick adds.
Dent-Fitzpatrick also commended the current Police Chief Freddie Blackmon, who promoted her into her current position.
“Chief Blackmon promoted two females to this position and one being me, and I’m forever grateful for that. You never know what people are doing when they are looking at you, they’re watching you. You may think that you are doing the worst job. You may think that you just out here on the island by yourself, but people see you and people are watching you. So you do what’s right and you do what you need to do for your path, and you make sure that you do it out of your heart and with your heart, and make sure you treat people who have lifted you up right,” Dent-Fitzpatrick adds.
Although Black History Month is only one month out of the year, Dent-Fitzpatrick says Black History is not only a thing of the past, but something to guide others going forward.
“I’m just elated, and striving, and happy, and confident that we will have Black History to bring up other people, and our history will resonate throughout the world of the accomplishments that Black Americans have made.”