As a rookie Suffolk cop 30 years ago, JoAnn McLaughlin said she didn’t dream about ascending to the top of the ranks, but instead put her head down and concentrated on the work at hand.
From a patrol officer in the First Precinct to her current post as the commanding officer of Internal Affairs, McLaughlin’s steady rise led to a historic distinction — she’s only the second woman to achieve the rank of deputy chief in the Suffolk County Police Department, officials said.
“Being a woman hasn’t held me back,” said McLaughlin, 55. “I think there are times that being a woman has benefits and sometimes perhaps it has drawbacks. But overall, it’s just been a very positive experience.”
McLaughlin was one of four women and 59 people overall that Police Commissioner Timothy Sini promoted in the past eight months — a wave marked during a ceremony replete with bagpipers Tuesday at Suffolk County Community College in Brentwood.
Suffolk’s first female deputy chief was Donna Engel, who was promoted to that rank in 2005, officials said. Engel retired in 2009 after stints as a chief in patrol and the detectives division.
Sini, in remarks at the ceremony, said detectives and other supervisors are “mission critical” to the department and cited a recent incident in which attendees at a Coram house party taunted police and threw rocks as an example of strong supervision that prevented the situation from escalating.
“That situation could have ended very badly, but thanks to the supervision that was at that scene, literally from chief on down, we handled that situation, we de-escalated that situation,” said Sini, calling the partygoers “an unruly bunch making racist comments, making threatening remarks against law enforcement.”
Sini added: “We never lost control of the situation. We ended that disturbance with no use of physical force or any arrests. It was outstanding work.”
Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone spoke at the ceremony, thanking the officers for their “hard work, commitment and excellence,” which he said makes Suffolk “one of the safest counties in our nation.”
After 14 years as a Suffolk police officer with stints in the Gang Unit and the Community Response Bureau, newly promoted Det. Jeannette Morales, who before Suffolk spent two years in the NYPD, is in the Special Victims Unit, investigating child abuse.
“The good feeling about it is putting these guys behind bars who are abusing helpless children,” she said.
Law enforcement runs deep in Morales’ family: Her husband is NYPD Lt. Marcus Morales and her son is NYPD Officer Edwin Villanueva.
Morales, who said she’s already contemplating taking the sergeants test, said female role models such as McLaughlin are important.
“It’s basically, if I did it, you can do it,” she said.