Bringing Women to Mesa

How an Arizona agency uses strategy and culture to influence recruitment. 

It was in 2020, amidst COVID-19 and social unrest, when leadership at the Mesa Police Department (MPD) in Arizona challenged themselves to think differently about recruitment. Many in the police profession were experiencing the difficulties following a global pandemic and an ongoing social justice reform movement, which put a spotlight on policing and its connection to communities nationwide.

At a time when the future of police recruitment was unknown, MPD's Community Partnership Administrator Tara Hall introduced the 30x30 Initiative to Chief Ken Cost. With a goal of increasing the representation of women in recruitment classes to 30% by 2030, MPD leadership strategically aligned with the initiative, becoming one of the very first agencies to take the pledge.

A commitment to targeted recruitment tactics and honest conversation about agency culture is how MPD surpassed two national averages: (1) 13% female officers in the workforce, surpassing the national average of 12%, and (2) 8% female police leadership, surpassing the national average of 5%.

But if the police profession simply needs "more cops," why, specifically, does having more female officers matter?

Since taking the 30x30 pledge in 2020, the number of female police officers in MPD has increased from 90 to 113.

On a sports team of any kind, it's critical to have players who excel using their distinct abilities. You can't win a soccer game with a team of all goalies, right? MPD thinks the same way about policing. Sergeant Elisha Gibbs credits her time as a patrol supervisor for helping her to understand the value of a diverse squad. Sergeant Gibbs explained that her ability to assign each officer tasks based on their personal and unique strengths is what made her shift operations most effective and productive.

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Research tells us that women offer a unique and defining skill set that can significantly strengthen public safety. Offering empathy, patience, compassion, and honesty, research finds that women officers tend to have more conflict resolution skills, are named in fewer complaints and lawsuits, earn better outcomes for sex crime victims, use less force, and are perceived by citizens in ways that build community trust.

When MPD first announced its pledge to 30x30, there was some skepticism, including among women officers. Sergeant Gibbs reflected on her first impression, recalling that it was her hard work that got her to where she was at the time, not a program. That is when Gibbs started to do her research and learned the goal of 30x30 wasn't to lower or lessen qualifications to become a police officer. Instead, the initiative aims to educate and offer resources to help agencies better recruit and retain good employees, especially women.

Fast forward to today, and Sergeant Gibbs is "all in." The 30x30 goal of increased female representation in law enforcement is considered in the conversations she has with police recruits while serving as supervisor of MPD's Recruitment Unit.  

Gibbs and Hall work in tandem to bolster recruitment efforts and keep 30x30 alive and well at MPD. When asked about the goal of reaching 30% women in MPD's workforce, Hall stated, "30% is a large enough group to where, within an organization, you feel like you have a voice, or can achieve change, or even be a part of leadership." 

Representation helps encourage current officers and inspire potential ones, which led MPD's recruitment team to completely rethink their approach to hiring. Through an impressive recruitment campaign, MPD's dedicated website includes a series of videos grounded in three themes: learn, lead, and live. Each video features a diverse array of officers, including women, talking about life and career and striking a balance between both. A spotlight is placed on "Gen PD"—the agency's younger workforce; a decision made after Hall and team learned the average age of MPD's applicants is 26.

"We showcased why it's important to join Mesa, but more importantly, I wanted people to see themselves healthy and happy and being able to have a career-life balance 15 to 20 years into it."

Sergeant Elisha Gibbs

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"You can be a mom. You can have a family. You can have a work-life balance and still be successful in this career."

Sergeant Elisha Gibbs

Work-life balance isn't just talked about at MPD; it's embedded into organizational operations. Officers bid for preferred shifts and work four 10-hour days. Once a schedule is set, it's set for an entire year, allowing for time to pursue personal life endeavors. Sergeant Gibbs added that this model helps both male and female officers with family planning, travel, and other commitments that matter to them. Following three years on patrol, officers can apply for specialized units, where more flexibility is offered.

Of course, obstacles still exist, including balancing parenthood and policing. Today, being both a mother and an officer remains a barrier for women. Sergeant Gibbs, however, wants to make sure those applying to MPD know it's more than achievable. 

So, MPD enlisted working moms in the department to be spokespeople in recruitment efforts. Watch the videos here.

Although 30x30's goal is to recruit more women, MPD still places an emphasis on hiring only qualified candidates. New officers are on patrol because they meet the qualifications and not because of their sex. MPD educates and leans on current officers—the best "salespeople" MPD has, according to Sergeant Gibbs—to talk to the community and encourage other qualified women to apply.

"We are deeply grateful for [Chief Cost] and our leadership in championing these initiatives and the pledge. While the progress may seem incremental, each success is deliberate and strategic in our aim to cultivate a diverse workforce."

Tara Hall

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Hall attributes MPD's culture shift to Chief Cost.

Today, 15% of MPD's 2024 Academy Class are women. Coincidentally, MPD is hiring qualified women at the exact same rate: 15%.

Hall and Gibbs acknowledge that being a mid-sized agency has aided recruitment efforts, but they also believe a lot can be accomplished without extensive resources and funding. Even with limited means, MPD encourages agencies to utilize social media, incentives, and marketing to diversify their candidate pool:  

  • Social media is a free and powerful communication tool. Showcasing women officers on camera encourages other women to consider that career path. For MPD, 75% of their recruits are employee referrals, but the other 25% come from social media.
  • Incentives for employees who recruit qualified candidates don't have to be expensive. Offering a day off or recognition from the police chief or sheriff promotes recruitment and fosters a positive culture. 
  • Business cards can be an inexpensive and valuable tool that officers share while on patrol. These cards can provide basic information, including the officer's name for future incentives, social media handles, website links, and easy steps to apply or talk to a recruiter. 

Regardless of the tools used, MPD recognizes that advancing diversity, including women in policing, is advancing the profession everywhere and for everyone.     

NPI continues supporting diversity in policing, including through leading 30x30's technical assistance. We look forward to seeing the continued work of MPD, along with the many agencies they work with across the valley, to reimagine the future of policing.


"I think we have a duty and obligation to represent the community we serve, plain and simple. And that's not just with gender, it's with race, nationality, culture, everything. If I'm someone in the community, and I called the police, I want someone to show up that I feel comfortable talking to, that I feel like represents me and who I am."

Sergeant Elisha Gibbs

For more information about the Mesa Police Department, visit To learn more about the 30x30 Initiative, visit