Photo by Diane Cox
McKenzie Sirtak is Roxana’s first female police officer.
ROXANA — Illinois has had the bragging rights for hiring the first female police officer in the United States since 1891 when Marie Connolly Owens joined the Chicago Police Department with the title of detective sergeant. Owens had full arrest powers and carried a badge. In an interview with the Chicago Daily Tribune in 1906, Owens’ superior officer, Capt. O’Brien, gave her a compliment that would make any community servant stand tall.
“Give me men like she is a woman,” O’Brien said. “Give me more like her and we will have the model detective bureau of the whole world.”
More than 120 years later, Roxana has taken its own step in breaking law enforcement barriers as they welcome their newest addition to the police department by adding McKenzie Sirtak. After moving 40 miles northeast from her hometown of Mascoutah, Sirtak is getting acquainted with her new home as she learns the ropes on the street.
“She (Sirtak) is a very quick learner,” Police Chief William Cunningham said. “I see her as being a breath of fresh air and you get that when you get new officers in a department. Her level of interest, her level of being pro-active and her energy have been great. She has a willingness to learn and a desire to serve. It’s good to see that in a young recruit.”
The first female tested in Roxana in late 1998 and was not followed until 2010, but neither were able to fill a position. Sirtak doesn’t feel like a pioneer in the small community of Roxana; she feels like a member of the team.
“I see this opportunity as I would see any other job,” Sirtak said. “Being the first female isn’t a huge deal to me. Everyone has been more than receptive and it really doesn’t seem to make much of a difference here whether I’m male or female. No one here treats me any differently.”
One aspect Sirtak likes about her new home away from home is the closeness of surrounding departments. The Roxana Police Department has six full-time officers, including Cunningham, so having nearby support is something Sirtak thinks will be a nice asset.
“Being a new officer is a learning process,” Sirtak said. “We all know that the books we study in college on criminal justice, they can’t tell you all you need to know. It’s nice to know I always have backup with police officers from South Roxana, Hartford, Wood River and East Alton who are willing to lend a hand.”
Sirtak is a 2010 graduate of Mascoutah High School and an accomplished athlete who later attended Murray State University and began her studies in forensic chemistry. After changing her major to the criminal justice field and ultimately earning her bachelor’s degree, she was offered a position at Roxana in October 2014. Sirtak took to the streets after graduating in March from the 10-week police academy.
The police department runs a 12-hour shift while officers rotate days and nights on a set schedule.
“We are very limited with our facility and with our space,” Cunningham said. “We know it’s in the talking phase for an improvement to the space provided for the police and fire department. We don’t have a designated male or female locker room. Our community is close enough to where we can go home if we need to change our uniform and we also have the gymnasium next door that does have a male and female facility. But functionality of the department for both men and women is something that would be improved upon in the future.”
Sirtak is fitting right in with her new role and says she hopes to build a lasting relationship with the community.
“I see myself as an outgoing person and approachable,” Sirtak said. “I’m more than willing to talk with community members, have a conversation and project that officers are people just like anyone else. The uniform is just a uniform that we wear and we’re a person just like everyone else.”