More than Just a Badge
As the only female chief of police in Lancaster County, Chief Lisa Layden understands the challenges some women in the field of law enforcement may face.
But overall, “my law enforcement experience has been overwhelmingly positive,” she said. “I am very proud of the personal and professional relationships I have built.”
Layden, a Honesdale native and married mother of three, attended art college in York upon high school graduation and also spent a number of years working in the restaurant field.
But when she was in her late 20s, she said, “I was looking for something more meaningful and applied to the Police Academy at HACC in Harrisburg.”
Within months, she was offered a full-time position in York County, where she worked as an officer, patrol sergeant, and detective sergeant for Southwestern Regional Police for about 23 years, before coming to Lancaster County as chief of police of West Hempfield Township in April 2019.
Holding a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from York College, Layden also successfully completed the Master of Public Administration program at Penn State and, in 2015, began the Administration and Leadership Studies Ph.D. program at IUP, the Dixon Center in Harrisburg.
“At this time I have completed all of the coursework for a doctorate degree in sociology from IUP and am working on my dissertation, which is about what motivates women to seek or remain in policing positions,” she said.
Layden did not always dream of a career in law enforcement. She found that positive and negative work experiences, and “the concepts and ideas I learned about in college, particularly at the graduate level, strongly influenced me to try for a top position in policing,” she said. “I felt like I could make a difference and bring some progressive ideas to the field.”
The majority of her time in her new position has been focused on building relationships by listening and learning from those around her, with a goal of always working toward enhancing current policies to increase effectiveness.
“Good policies are the foundation of continuing and maintaining a professional, service-focused police department,” Layden said.
During her career in law enforcement, Layden has hired, mentored, or supervised many officers, and it gives her great pleasure to see them excel and grow in their positions, increasing the positive influence they have in the community they serve.
“In my current role as chief of police, my description of a good day is when I feel that I am helping each officer rise to their full potential,” she said. “It makes me feel like I’ve accomplished something great.”
Of course, there are tough days for those in law enforcement as well, and Layden has seen her share of those.
“The most significant negative aspect of this job is definitely exposure to trauma,” she said. “Police are human, and we all soak it in to some degree. I would say my biggest fear is seeing an officer fall … but a close second that I consider daily is understanding and planning for how the myriad of stressors affect our officers, their family members, and outcomes for their lives.”
Layden knows there is no way she could accomplish her goals without a reliable and dependable team, although sometimes only the top officials get to be the name or face on a great accomplishment, she said.
“But there are always many that played a part in solving a crime, organizing a great community event, and operating an effective police agency,” Layden said.
She strongly feels it is vital that anyone who aims to be a great leader remembers to express gratitude where it is due.
Although her new position is taking up much of her time right now, she does hope to soon join in charitable work in her community.
“I do plan to become involved in some of the events I participated in in the past, such as the Law Enforcement Torch Run and Polar Plunge for Special Olympics,” she said.
Layden may not have followed a traditional path into her career in law enforcement, but today she definitely recognizes the benefit of wisdom that comes with maturity.
“The most significant thing I learned about myself is that I am capable of way more than I thought as a younger person,” she said.
“When I was a young adult, I felt like most major goals in life were all-or-nothing types of things, but as I went along I realized that [even though] I was not doing things in the same order or same way as others, I could still get what I wanted out of life.”