First Woman to Ever be Named Chief

APS Alum is OSU PD Chief
Posted on 01/15/2019
Image of Kimberly Spears-McNatt(Jennifer Smola for Columbus Dispatch/

As an Ohio State University student in the early 1990s, Kimberly Spears-McNatt never attended a football game.

The Akron native and former track star at Kenmore High School was too busy juggling her schoolwork and three jobs —at a Kroger store, her work-study program, and the university transportation and parking office — to make it to a Buckeyes game, but she did graduate debt-free.

Years later, that same work ethic has propelled her to become the first female chief of the Ohio State Police Division.

Spears-McNatt was sworn in Thursday. The division’s 10 previous chiefs were all men.

“It’s very humbling,” she said. “My personal and my professional philosophy is, ‘To whom much is given, much is required.’”

Her family was just as proud, especially her mother, Cilla Williams.

“I still got tears in my eyes,” the mother said. “I’m just so overjoyed and proud of her.”

Spears-McNatt, 48, served about six months as interim chief following the departure of former Chief Craig Stone, who took a position at the University of Illinois in June.

Spears-McNatt graduated from Ohio State in 1993 with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and a minor in black studies. During her time working for the Ohio State transportation and parking department, where she was a clerical assistant, a campus police officer started talking to her about police work. By 1994, she had joined the police division, where she’s been ever since.

“I’m proud of her because she did this all herself,” Williams said. “She was always a hard worker in high school and she still is now.”

Despite her determination and success, Spears-McNatt wasn’t alone on her journey.

She said she is grateful to the many women in her profession who have paved the way, rattling off half a dozen names of women in law enforcement, including former Orlando Police Chief and current Democratic Florida Congresswoman Val Dennings and outgoing Columbus Police Chief Kim Jacobs, among others.

″[There are] a lot of shoulders I stand on to be able to sit here,” she said. “There’s a lot more women in law enforcement [now], but it’s always that challenge, as a woman, when you come to the table, for your voice to be heard. At the same time, I’ve received a lot of support from women and men counterparts that gives me the strength, a lot of encouragement, a lot of advice, a lot of mentors to let me know that they’re there to support me and I don’t have to figure this out by myself.”

Reports of sexual assaults have increased at Ohio State in recent years, going from 26 in 2015 to 71 in 2017, according to the university’s most recent Clery Act data.

“I graduated from Ohio State, so when I personally hear incidents happen on campus, I take it personal,” she said. “I know what it’s like to be a student on campus, and I understand that this should be the best four or five years of your life. And I want the students to be able to focus on their education, their dreams, their goals, and let me and the officers worry about their safety.”

When Abdul Razak Ali Artan drove a car into a crowd on campus and began stabbing people on Nov. 28, 2016, Spears-McNatt was incident commander, managing the scene, delegating tasks and disseminating information among officers and other law-enforcement partners. The incident ended when a university officer fatally shot Artan.

As chief overseeing 56 sworn officers, Spears-McNatt said she will make training a major focus, in part because of how important her training was during that 2016 attack. She had been cross-trained to be the Homeland Security branch director for football games and also had worked traffic operations, which helped her the day of the attack, she said. She said she wants all command staff to be cross-trained “so when they have to handle a situation, that they’re prepared for it.”

Spears-McNatt also plans to focus on recruiting and retaining the best officers while keeping in mind diversity and inclusion.

“I want to make sure that we have a police division that is just as diverse as the community that we serve,” she said.

Though she’s no longer juggling three jobs, Spears-McNatt is still working hard. She’s been to countless Ohio State football games now, but as a police officer reporting for duty.

She finally attended her first game as a spectator when she and her husband, Vince McNatt, and son Collin McNatt, 15, attended the Rose Bowl game on New Year’s Day in Pasadena.

“I don’t take that for granted that I will have the opportunity to lead our agency, shape our agency and keep the campus safe, which is our No. 1 priority,” she said.

Image of Kimberly Spears-McNatt Image of Kimberly Spears-McNatt
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