Kent Police Tap Captain to Replace Retiring Chief
Kent Police Capt. Michelle Lee to become Kent's first female police chief Jan. 24
The glass ceiling doesn't exist for Kent Police Capt. Michelle Lee.
Lee has a history of rising through the ranks at the Kent police department as the first female sergeant, lieutenant and then captain. Beginning Jan. 24, she can add chief of police to her extensive resume.
Lee is replacing retiring Kent Police Chief James Peach, who retires Jan. 23.
For Lee, achieving the rank of chief of the department — as the first female chief — is not a big deal.
"Because I've broken all those barriers going up," Lee said. "I guess it's one for the history books. But in my eyes it's not that big of a deal. Maybe in the city's eyes it will be. Gender has really not been an issue for me in the department."
Kent Safety Director Bill Lillich said he's proud of the fact Lee will be Kent's first female police chief, but he said it's her hard work — not her gender — that earned her the position as Kent's top cop.
"It is a milestone for both the city and the department, I'm not going to diminish that," Lillich said. "But I don't credit her for being a female for getting where she's gotten. She brings quality skills to perform leadership, supervision (and) management functions. Those are the strengths, and it doesn't impact that that she's a female."
"It is historic," Kent Police Chief James Peach said of his successor. "More importantly than being historic, she has all the characteristics (and) skills to become an outstanding police chief. One of her strongest characteristics is her interpersonal skills, as well as her intelligence and experience and leadership training she has achieved."
Lee started her first job in law enforcement as a Kent police officer in September 1987. She graduated with a degree in criminal justice from the University of Akron and from the Case Western Reserve Police Academy.
She became a certified physical fitness specialist in 1990 and began conducting the annual fitness training and testing for the department. After rising to sergeant, Lee used her position as a bicycle officer to patrol Kent's neighborhoods.
Lee soon rose to lieutenant, commanding 11 officers in a patrol division, before being promoted to administrative lieutenant. Lee earned the rank of captain in January 2006 and has been in charge of the patrol division's day-to-day operations for the past five years.
Though she is looking forward to taking over as chief, Lee said she had to take a few days to consider accepting the job after learning she scored highest in the position test between herself and Kent Police Capt. Greg Urchek.
"Chief's job is really not a fun job," Lee said. "There's a lot of responsibility and a lot of stress.
"In every step as officer, as sergeant, as lieutenant, and even captain, you always kind of have the opportunity to look up," Lee said. "There's always the next step up to double check, to make sure you're doing things right. With the chief, the buck stops here. And that's a lot of pressure, and a lot of responsibility."
The job may come with a lot of responsibility, but those around Lee are confident she will handle it well.
Kent City Manager Dave Ruller said Lee's work as captain has already earned her the full faith and respect of the city's fellow department heads.
"She knows her business and that comes across, but she does it in a way that reassures people," Ruller said. "We're excited about what she's going to bring in behind the chief."
Peach said he believes Lee will develop her own unique management style as chief, but he expects her commanding decisions will be very similar to his own.
"And that is not necessarily to acquiese to any particular special interest, whether it's a student population or other segments, but always all decisions are based on what's best for the entire Kent community," he said. "And as long as she continues to think in that line, she cannot make a bad decision."
One example of similarity is Lee's intent to continue several community policing programs Peach started to improve visibility and communication with officers in neighborhoods.
"I'm just going to take that ball and roll with it," Lee said.
One way Lee expects to differ from Peach is by playing a more active role as the public face of the department. Several city administrators described Peach as often letting the department's work speak for itself and playing a more behind-the-scenes role.
"That will be a change because I enjoy getting out and talking to people and being out there," Lee said. "Not that I like the spotlight necessarily, but I think it's important for people to know who their chief of police is."