In Somali culture, women don’t strive to become police officers, Kadra Mohamed said.
On Saturday morning, Mohamed was recognized as the first Somali-American woman to join the St. Paul Police Department, a move made possible by the department’s announcement that it has approved an option for employees to wear a police-issued hijab.
“It’s nerve-wracking in a way,” Mohamed, 21, said of being the first woman of Somali descent in the department. “I want to be a good role model for others, especially Somali women.”
Mohamed was recognized at the police’s Western District building during a graduation ceremony for youth who recently completed the East African Junior Police Academy.
Police Chief Thomas Smith said St. Paul joins at least one other department — in Washington, D.C. — as the only departments in the U.S. to allow the hijab, a head scarf worn in public by some Muslim women.
A senior studying criminal justice at St. Cloud State University and a St. Paul Central High School graduate, Mohamed said she contacted St. Paul police a few months ago to learn about becoming an officer. She said she expressed concerns over not being able to wear a hijab on duty. In Islam, females may wear the hijab as a form of modesty and cultural identity, and Mohamed wears it as part of her daily dress.
The Twin Cities have the nation’s largest Somali-American population. Garaad Sahal was St. Paul’s first — and only — Somali-American police officer, joining in late 2012.
Born in Kenya, Mohamed grew up and lives part-time in St. Paul’s West Side with her mother, who fled the ongoing civil war in Somalia and lived in a Kenyan refugee camp before coming to the U.S. with her daughter.
Mohamed said she is planning to enroll in a police academy to receive officer training after she graduates from St. Cloud State in May. After that, she said, she will apply to become an officer.
Some of her tasks as a liaison officer include assisting officers in criminal investigations and extending outreach within the Somali community to bridge cultural gaps, she said.
“She’s going to be a trendsetter,” Smith said.
As part of the police department’s commitment to establishing and bolstering relationships within the Twin Cities’ Somali community, 23 children and young adults, most of whom have East African origins, were recognized at the graduation ceremony for completing the monthlong junior police academy. Forty had signed up for the program, and 12 were absent at Saturday’s ceremony.
The St. Paul Police Department regularly holds citizen academies, including those for youth, but this was the first one geared toward East African youth.