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updated: 11/22/2010 12:34 PM

Aurora promotes first woman to police commander

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  • Kristen Ziman is the first woman to rise to the rank of commander in the Aurora Police Department.

       Kristen Ziman is the first woman to rise to the rank of commander in the Aurora Police Department.
    DANIEL WHITE | Staff Photographer

  • Kristen Ziman, 37, is commander of the Aurora Police Department's Bureau of Neighborhood Policing. She is one of the department's three commanders, reporting directly to the chief.

       Kristen Ziman, 37, is commander of the Aurora Police Department's Bureau of Neighborhood Policing. She is one of the department's three commanders, reporting directly to the chief.
    DANIEL WHITE | Staff Photographer

  • Kristen Ziman is the first woman to rise to the rank of commander in the Aurora Police Department.

       Kristen Ziman is the first woman to rise to the rank of commander in the Aurora Police Department.
    DANIEL WHITE | Staff Photographer

  • Kristen Ziman, commander of the Bureau of Neighborhood Policing for the Aurora Police Department, inspects her pink Harley-Davidson motorcycle.

      Kristen Ziman, commander of the Bureau of Neighborhood Policing for the Aurora Police Department, inspects her pink Harley-Davidson motorcycle.
    COURTESY OF KRISTEN ZIMAN

 
 

This is the story of Aurora's first female police commander.

The story of someone who never wanted to be anything other than a police officer when she grew up.

The story of Kristen Ziman.

But it's also the story of a woman who doesn't want to be recognized as the first female anything. The story of someone whose only career goal is to master her current position. The story of a leader.

Kristen Ziman joined the Aurora Police Department in 1991 as a cadet fresh out of West Aurora High School. The cadet program paid for her education and gave her the equivalent of a three-year internship with the department.

"I can't remember ever wanting to do anything else," Ziman said.

By age 21, she was an officer, and her rise through the ranks to an investigator position with the Domestic Violence Reduction Unit, and then to sergeant, lieutenant and commander, had begun.

Today, at 37, Ziman is commander of the department's Bureau of Neighborhood Policing. She is one of the department's three commanders, reporting directly to the chief.

"She was born to be a police officer," Aurora patrol officer Christine Tunney said. "Moving up to her has just been an opportunity to make everything better for the rest of us. And it's got nothing to do with gender."

Instead, what may have led to Ziman's promotions is her focus on self-improvement, learning and striving to be the best person and police officer possible.

"People shouldn't be put in a position because of their gender. I'm vehemently opposed to that," Ziman said. "We're all just brothers and sisters in blue and that's the only color we see. Race and gender are not important."

Since she became commander in June, Ziman said her job involves a lot of coordination and communication to make patrolling go smoothly for the roughly 160 officers she supervises.

"The way I view my position is that it's my job to get the barriers out of the way so (the officers on the street) can do their job," Ziman said.

Ziman succeeds at understanding the needs of patrol officers whether they be a rental car for an undercover operation, or a plan for communicating with state or county police departments because she listens, Tunney said.

"She has the ability to make the people that she comes in contact with feel like they are being heard," Tunney said. "She can make you feel like you're the only person in the world and that the things you say matter because to her, they do matter."

Her ability to take care of the needs of other officers, as well as her strong leadership skills, made her the best choice for the commander position, Chief Greg Thomas said.

"I had no motives in mind other than promoting the best individual for the position," Thomas said. "She's a very humble woman who really looks out for the people that work for her and makes sure they have all the things they need to do a good job."

Ziman grew up on Aurora's west side, the daughter of an Aurora police officer who retired from the department as a sergeant. When she says "Go Hawks," she's talking about West Aurora High School's Blackhawks, not Chicago's hockey team.

"A lot of my role models have been male," she said. "I haven't had that luxury to have a female to emulate."

But now, many female officers (the department has about 30) see Ziman as a role model, Tunney and Thomas said. Role model status isn't something Ziman considered, but she said she welcomes it, especially when it comes to her children.

Ziman said she has her 12-year-old daughter, Bailey, to thank for her decision to pursue the promotion to commander. When talking to Bailey and her 10-year-old son, Jacob, Ziman used a hypothetical phrase: "If I become commander …"

"My daughter stopped me and said 'Not if. When,'" Ziman said. "Somehow it was instilled in her that the sky's the limit."

And knowing she planted the seeds of self-improvement and service in her daughter was just the sign Ziman needed.

She knew it was time to take on an even greater leadership role. It's a role she is happy with for the time being, one that marks her spot in Aurora police history as the department's first female commander. And one that fits the story of the lifelong Auroran who always knew she was meant to be a police officer.

"I don't have any career plans except to master my job," Ziman said. "I never had the goal of being a lieutenant or being a commander. It's better that way because I had no expectations."

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