SM police chief honored for Black History Month
The excitement in the room was palpable. Many had come to hear the inspiring words of the first woman to become police chief in California.
Chief Jacqueline A. Seabrooks was invited by the Black Collegians at Santa Monica College on Thursday to speak about her experiences and struggles as an African American female rising through the ranks of the Santa Monica Police Department.
"Why do we celebrate our history only in February?" Seabrooks said in her lecture. "Being black in America should be celebrated everyday."
Seabrooks told the story of her upbringing in a family that valued higher education.
"I always knew I was going to college, but I thought I was going to be a lawyer," she said.
While attending Pierce College in Woodland Hills, Seabrooks said she applied and was accepted as a police officer for the California State Police Division.
According to the SMPD's website, Seabrooks was, at the age of 19, one of the youngest ever to serve the state while she worked for the Los Angeles office.
"It was the first time I really experienced racism," said Seabrooks.
Despite the challenges she faced, Seabrooks said her time at the academy was positive to her growth as a police officer.
"I don't say it to trivialize it; the academy is where you become a police officer," Seabrooks said. "I got through that experience, and after the academy, I noticed I loved being a police officer."
According to the SMPD's website, after spending a year with the California State Police, in 1982 she moved on to the SMPD.
"I didn't want to become a Los Angeles Police Department officer because I didn't like what I'd seen at the academy," she said.
"At first it wasn't easy," said Seabrooks, of her first few years at the SMPD.
"They didn't know how to handle a woman at the department, and they didn't know how to treat a black person," she said.
Seabrooks went on to talk about her motivations to climb the professional ladder at the SMPD.
"I noticed what the sergeants were doing and I thought, why are they doing this? How are they treating people?" Seabrooks said. "I wanted to change that, and I learned that if you want change, you have to become that change."
This thought process pushed Seabrooks to take and pass the sergeant test, and in 1990, she became the first woman to serve as a police sergeant.
From that point on in her career, Seabrooks progressively continued to break barriers.
In 1996 she became police lieutenant, then police captain in 2000. In 2007, she rose to the top as police chief for the Inglewood Police Department. Finally, in 2012 she took over the same position but for the SMPD, according to the SMPD's website.
When asked about why she chose a life in law enforcement, Seabrooks said it was meant to be.
"I don't know that I chose a life in law enforcement; I think it chose me," she said in an interview. "I just happened to be at the right place where someone could give me an application at a point, and then I did the follow-through, and the rest has just been what it's been."
Being recognized as an inspiring figure in the police force is something Seabrooks takes in stride.
"My job makes me a role model and I understand that," said Seabrooks. "Sometimes it can be tiring, but it's never tiresome."
Seabrooks said she believes she has, and will continue to have, a positive effect on her community.
"I get to meet people; I get to make a difference," she said. "I think my role here in life is to help and to make a difference, and I think I'm doing that."