NewsBlack History Month


Cleveland RTA's first female police chief broke barriers to secure her dream, every step of the way

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Posted at 4:45 PM, Feb 25, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-25 18:25:17-05

CLEVELAND — Woven into the fabric of Black history are those big names synonymous with the fight for racial equality: Fannie Lou Hamer, Rosa Parks and Shirley Chisholm.

However, we know they did not set out on their journeys alone, and decades later, many are following in their footsteps.

At an early age, thanks to classic cop shows like Hawaii 5-O, Deirdre Jones set her sights on becoming a police officer.

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Deirdre Jones in Kindergarten.

"I used to say it all the time, 'Book 'em Dano, book 'em Dano. Open the refrigerator, book 'em Dano.' Made no sense at all, but it was fun just saying it," said Jones.

Shortly after joining the ranks of the Cleveland Police Department in the 1980s, Jones ended up in the Third District's vice unit.

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Deirdre Jones as a Cleveland police officer in 1995.

"I worked undercover,” said Jones.

With the determination to eventually become a detective, Jones hit a roadblock.

"I was advised that there were no qualified females or minorities for any specialized units at that district. My mother taught me a long time ago never to be quitter," said Jones.

Jones wasn’t prepared to take no for an answer, so she requested a transfer to Cleveland's Fourth District.

"If somebody tells me I can't do it, then I go out of my way to prove them wrong,” said Jones.

The young officer, hungry for opportunities, found her way into the domestic violence unit.

"I got my passion there, learned my passion and what I enjoyed doing,” said Jones.

For Jones, the work was personal.

An extended family member was the victim of domestic violence.

"As a child, those images and those noises, sounds, everything stays with you. It's still with me even now," said Jones.

Despite being told early on in her career she couldn't, whether because of her gender or race, Jones made a name for herself.

"I was the first female to supervise the Cleveland Police Homicide Unit in the history of the department," said Jones.

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Deirdre Jones working in CPD's Homicide Unit in 2017.

Jones was also the department's first openly gay member of the command staff.

"I'm a firm believer that if you can't be your true authentic self, then you'll never live to your full potential," said Jones.

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Deirdre Jones at her wedding, with then-Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson (left)

On her journey, Jones unknowingly blazed a trail for women, African-Americans, and those who identify as LGBTQ.

“All I can do is be the example for other people to follow, for other people to see that the stereotypes are wrong," said Jones.

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Deirdre Jones participates in a pride parade with other officers in 2019.

As she sat in her office as the first female police chief of the Cleveland Regional Transit Authority, Jones reflected on those who came before her to help shape Black history.

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Deirdre Jones as the Chief of Police for the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority

"While I like the idea of being the first, I definitely do not want to be the last,” said Jones.

"Some of the progress could not have been made without LGBTQ support in the struggle for equality,” said Jones.

More than three decades into her career, a conversation Jones had with her mother when she joined CPD still resonates today.

"I actually asked her if she thought I'd make a good police officer, and what she said to me over 30 years ago was, 'You will make a great police chief.' Her prediction came true. I am sitting in this chair. So, it's a beautiful thing. I am proof positive that you can be anything you want to be,” said Jones.

Jones and her sisters and brothers in blue celebrate Cleveland Pride in 2017.