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Chapel Hill Police restarts GEMS program, promoting young women in public safety


Chapel Hill police chief Celisa Lehew poses outside of the Chapel Hill Police Department.
Photo Courtesy of the Town of Chapel Hill.

The Chapel Hill Police Department will host its GEMS program, which stands for "Girls. Empowered. Motivated. Spectacular." for the first time since 2019.

The department will hold sessions every Thursday for young women in the community from May 11 through June 15 from 6 to 8 p.m. 

Applications for the program are due on April 30.

“It’s a six-week series of hands-on activities for young women, ages 14 to 19, to explore future opportunities in community-oriented or community-facing careers such as public safety,” Celisa Lehew, the Chapel Hill police chief, said.

The CHPD began the program in 2019, and according to Lehew, was successful in its first session. After having planned the second session, the police department had to postpone the program because of the pandemic.

Lehew said members of the police department came up with the idea for the program after seeing fewer women involved in law enforcement. The department had been successful in recruiting campaigns and wanted to extend the opportunity of seeing frontline workers to young women in the community.

Sgt. Prairie Osborne, the lead organizer of the GEMS program, said it is important for girls to have representation in local police. 

“Thinking back to where I grew up, in the western part of the state, we didn’t — or I didn’t personally — have any exposure to women police officers,” Osborne said. “I think this program is a great opportunity for young women in our community to see women in different positions, especially those related to public safety.”

In addition to featuring law enforcement representatives, Osborne said the program will allow participants to meet crisis workers, a judge, an attorney, a firefighter, those who work in evidence analysis positions and patrol officers. 

Some of the guest speakers, who Osborne coordinated, will include District Court Judge Samantha Cabe, attorney Tiffanie Sneed and Chapel Hill emergency management coordinator Kelly Drayton, Lehew said.

Lehew is the first female police chief in Chapel Hill and took the helm at the department in January. 

According to The Pew Charitable Trusts, women currently make up less than 13 percent of full-time police officers in the U.S. 

In an effort to bridge this disparity in female law enforcement, Chapel Hill signed the 30x30 Pledge in 2022. The initiative seeks to increase female hires in police departments to 30 percent by 2030.

Some of the actions in the pledge include increasing female representation in all levels of law enforcement, ensuring bias-free policies and procedures, promoting equitable retention and promotion of female officers and ensuring an inclusive environment for female officers in all ranks and roles. 

Osborne said that even if the participants do not have an interest in pursuing law enforcement after the program, the program will help the participants to build a relationship with people at the police department.

Candace Settle, the youth involvement program coordinator at the North Carolina Council for Women and Youth Involvement, said the opportunity to bond and develop leadership skills are the most significant benefits of participating in state youth programs.

She also said she would recommend any student or young person to join programs such as GEMS, and that there should be similar programs in every county.

“There are so many opportunities that can blossom and stem from it,” she said. “It gives the student or young person the opportunity to be able to show their own talent.”

Those interested in the program should apply here by April 30.

@DTHCityState |

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