The Long Beach Police Department has promoted a woman to the rank of sergeant, the first female to be named to the post in the agency’s 109-year history.
Alexandra Nielsen was appointed sergeant last week, after a 10-year-career with the department. Nielsen, who recently turned 40, had studied computer technology at St. John’s College in Queens and began her police career working on tech projects, such as perfecting radio communications in patrol cars. Nielsen, slightly-built, also did patrol working, sometimes having to talk people out of getting into fights on the street, a skill she called “verbal judo.”
She was born in Sao Paulo, Brazil and moved with her family to Switzerland before coming to the U.S. in 1981. Growing up, she had friends who were police officers and one day decided to take the police test, not being at all certain she would ever get a job in the highly-competitive field. She passed with flying colors and waited for an appointment.
“I’m very proud to have become a police officer and to achieve the rank of sergeant,” Nielsen said in an interview at police headquarters, “I believe I have worked very hard,” She also received high marks on the sergeant’s exam.
The 62-member Long Beach Police Department has only a few people of color and women, something the acting police commissioner, Phil Ragona, is looking to change.
Ragona said he is proud to have been a part of naming the department’s first female sergeant.
“She’s an exemplary officer,” Ragona said, “She’s very smart and it was time to appoint our first female sergeant. An officer must wait three years before being allowed to take the test, and then once passing it, wait another five years for a promotion.
Nielsen is anxious to spread the word to young women about opportunities in the police department. She said she has spoken to Girl Scout groups and high school students, and plans on making more appearances in the future.
“I always hope to get out in front of children,” Nielsen said.
She has four of her own - 19, 12, 10, and 5.
How does she balance a busy job with a busy family life? “You just do it,” she said. “No matter how tired you are, you just do it.”