Highlighting Inspiring Women: She protects and serves

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Monona Police Chief Jo Amsden

Throughout March, which is Women’s History Month, the North Iowa Times will publish a series of articles highlighting local women. Whether it's through their careers, hobbies, volunteer efforts or unique personalities, these women have become an inspiration to others. Here is the fifth article, featuring Monona Police Chief Jo Amsden.



By Audrey Posten, North Iowa Times

A career in law enforcement isn’t necessarily similar to what people see on TV.

“That’s overrated,” quipped Jo Amsden, who’s served nearly 40 years in the profession, first as a Clayton County jailer/dispatcher, then as a reserve for the sheriff’s office and area community departments. She also spent time in the county’s office, doing reports and book work. Several years ago, Jo took over as Monona’s police chief.

For one thing, a real career in law enforcement isn’t always so fast-paced.

“You can’t solve crimes within 45 minutes,” Jo remarked. Building a case, exchanging information with other agencies, then finally executing a search warrant, all takes time.

However, that doesn’t mean it isn’t exciting.

“It’s never the same thing every day. There’s always a different situation to handle,” Jo shared.

“I like to figure things out,” she added, referencing an interest that dates back to her childhood, when she dreamt of re-creating crime scenes. “We don’t have some of the bigger toys, but sometimes old school is the best way.”

Some situations have even been comical. Jo recalled having to watch one man, to see if he was responsible for some break-ins around town. As he left a building, he was walking funny, she said. It turned out he had broken in, and the irregular gait was due to hiding the screwdriver in his sock.

Jo’s also dealt with her fair share of animals—both wild and domestic—doing everything from fishing a squirrel out of a port-a-potty to rescuing puppies from a storm drain. Just don’t ask her to handle a snake.

Not every traffic stop of case is amusing, though.

“Certain situations take a toll on you, too,” Jo admitted. “We do get emotional. We have a heart.”

She’s taken pity on the mom who, with three boisterous kids in the backseat, was driving a bit too fast. She’s given the high school kid with an equipment violation time to fix his vehicle. She’s even lent money to an individual who didn’t have enough to pay a bill. (Yes, she was paid back.)

Jo said the job sticks with her, often following her home at night.

“You’re never off,” she said, sharing that she usually resorts to baking, framing and matting pictures and riding her motorcycle in order to relax.

Ultimately, the goal is to handle everything the best you can, and try not to get too involved, Jo said.

“I try to put myself in their situation, see how I could best help them,” she noted. “And I try to do what I say I’m going to do.”

In a small, rural community like Monona, Jo said she enjoys getting to know the people she serves and protects. That’s an advantage law enforcement officials in larger cities don’t usually have, she added.

“In a smaller community, you’re more able to help with a situation, to counsel them,” she said. “People want you to stop by and talk to their kids.”

Through her time in Monona, Jo said she’s worked hard to improve the relationship between the department and the city’s juvenile residents. It’s paying dividends.

“They’re more willing to come forward with information if they have a problem. And, now, they wave at us with all their fingers up,” she said, laughing.

Younger kids also feel safe approaching Jo, going so far as to wrap their arms around her legs at a football game or parade.

“I don’t really know them,” Jo commented, “but it’s fulfilling.”

That aspect is just one reason others should consider a career in law enforcement, Jo said. Opportunities aren’t limited to police departments and sheriff’s offices, but also include jobs like search and rescue, water patrol, crime scene investigation, laboratory work and conservation. Although not as common in the field, women are just as suited as men, she added.

Jo was one of five women in her academy class and has worked with several other female officers over the years.

“Here and there, there are a few,” she said. 

At times, she has struggled with not being taken seriously.

“It can be frustrating. You have to prove yourself on a daily basis,” she remarked. “But it’s not always a man’s field. Sure, we can’t lift 300 pounds, but sometimes a female’s approach is better.”

No matter one’s gender, the pride of being part of the law enforcement community is the same.

“It’s rewarding when you can help somebody,” Jo said. “It gives you a satisfying feeling.”

Of all the facets of law enforcement portrayed on TV, that just may be the most accurate.

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