Text by Kaite Brutacao
With its high ceilings, cobblestone floor, and barred windows that appear more artistic than defensive, the Cagli police station looks like something out of a history book. On closer examination, one notices computers, a fax machine, telephones, and a smiling police chief in animated conversation with an officer. Although the electronics are enough to snap any visitor into the 21st century, it is the police chief who shows that this scene is not from history, but is making history. This chief is a woman: Francesca Catullo.
Although Catullo says that the men she oversees accept her, officer Luigi Sciamanna teases, with a playful look on his face, "Males do not rule at home or the office because we have to listen to our wives at home and a woman at work."
This department-wide joke may be said in jest, but it illustrates that female police officers, particularly chiefs, are still an anomaly in Italy. In the Marche region, for example, only 4 of the 20 commanders are females.
It was only 20 years ago that Italy allowed women to enter the police corps. Yet in that short time, women like Catullo have risen through the ranks to prove that they can play with the big boys. Well-educated, articulate, and compassionate, Catullo is not only the first female police chief in Cagli, but its first female officer, period. "I've had this dream since childhood," Catullo explains when asked why she chose this career.
The dream began on June 6, 1969, when Catullo was born in the Italian seaside town of Pesaro. Although her father, a nurse, and mother, a supermarket clerk, were not happy that their only child wanted to embark on a potentially dangerous career, Catullo emphasizes that they were always supportive and never prevented her from studying what she wished.
In her late teens and early twenties, she studied hard, earning three degrees with an emphasis in communication and psychology, culminating in a doctorate in sociology. She also received a grant to study economics, politics, and general security for a year. While getting her education, she worked part-time jobs as a supermarket clerk and as an accountant.
Eleven years ago, her hard work paid off and her dream became a reality when she was chosen over 750 people for a position as an officer walking a beat in the Pesaro Police Corps.
Although she says that she was surprised to get the job, she thinks that her strength in math and psychology helped push her ahead of the other candidates. She recalls her first official action was to represent the police corps in the Holy Friday procession. She laughs, "I had to dress up in full uniform, and it was freezing!"
Not all actions are as peaceful as a parade, however. While working in Pesaro, Catullo had several folders of paperwork from former cases, many of which involved apartment break-ins, theft, and undocumented workers selling knock-off designer goods. Although she found the job exciting, she felt the threat of danger and was always on guard.
Three months ago, however, her job became more prestigious and much safer when she fulfilled her ultimate career goal and became Cagli's chief of police. Although she is most often found sitting at a desk signing documents and giving permission for different activities, she enjoys the variety that is often marks her day. "As soon as you put your foot in the door in the morning," she says with an excited grin, "watch out: You never know what will happen."
The variety she refers to does not involve cracking down on major crime – at least in Cagli. In fact, when asked about the town's crime rate, she laughs and refers to the city as "very tranquil" and, as far as crime busting goes, "boring."
She cannot pinpoint the exact reasons why Cagli is such a safe town, but she believes that it probably has something to do with the fact that "people know each other here. There is a human dimension." Additionally, she thinks that because it is a very old and beautiful city, that in itself deters would-be criminals.
Catullo does not think that Cagli's small population is, necessarily, a reason for the town's safety. She explains that, "In some small towns in southern Italy, it is dangerous to walk the streets." Although she admits that there may be places better or safer than Cagli, the only crimes she has experienced in her three months as the city's commander are "very minor vandalism."
Although she is the town's first female police officer, Catullo finds that her colleagues and the public treat her no differently from a male commander. She notes that the response to her arrival in Cagli was "very good. This is the first time there has been a female presence here, and everyone accepted it."
Despite her success, Catullo admits that police work is "new territory" for Italian women, and it can be hard for them to "break through" because they "have to juggle family, kids, a relationship, and the job." Married and the mother of an 8-year-old son, Catullo struggles to balance her duties at home and her duties on the job. In addition, most of the positions in the force are currently filled, so often there are no jobs to apply for.
Despite these challenges, Catullo is a shining example proving that women these days can become police officers and can even earns the highest positions. Watching her brown eyes twinkle and her face light up as she speaks about her job, it is clear that she is living her dream and making history.