The New Haven Police Department now has its first African American woman to rise to the rank of captain.
"Beyond this humble honor I react with joy," Captain Patricia Helliger told a packed city hall Friday morning, "But also with a sense of awkwardness that it would take until now for this appointment to happen."
Captain Helliger’s promotion comes after two decades of serving in the department. Most recently she was the lieutenant in charge of the records division.
"All the 20 years I’ve been on the job, I’ve never noticed the fact we did not have a female African American or black female at the top," Helliger told NBC Connecticut, "And it was just very overwhelming when I realized I would be the first."
In front of family, friends, city and community leaders and police officers past and present, Helliger’s nephew pinned on her new badge. Then Mayor Toni Harp (D) of New Haven led the swearing-in.
"Today, we are especially proud of how New Haven Police department reflects the community it serves," Harp said during her remarks, "Men and women who are racially and culturally diverse who respect and embrace that diversity for the strength it implies."
Chief Dean Esserman praised Helliger for the work she has done outside of her daily police duties like carrying on the legacy of the late community leader Ola Mae Reddick.
"There is no one who has kept her name alive more than Lt. Helliger," Esserman said, "Who has fed families, who has raised money, who has taken care of families publicly and privately, who has had toy drives."
By breaking this glass ceiling, Helliger recognizes her responsibility as a role model.
"By being the first, I am encouraged that this gender and color line broken today will pave the way for more women who look like me," she said, as the crowd erupted in cheers.
Before this promotion, Helliger said she is most proud of designing a program that is reducing a backlog of arrest warrants. She said last year more than 500 people with outstanding warrants turned themselves in.