Michelle Kott: Being true to self motivates her to lead male-dominated police force

KYW Newsradio profiles one of the 10th annual Women's Achievement Awards honorees

Hadas Kuznits
June 11, 2019 - 10:42 am

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Michelle Kott has worked her way to the top of a predominantly male industry. At 37, she is the first-ever female captain of the City of Bethlehem Police Department.  

Before that, she was "the first female lieutenant in our department's history as well."

But she didn’t strive to be the best female officer — “I wanted to be the best officer.”

Over her 15-year career with the police department, she’s come to accept that not everyone is going to be accepting. When she first started, some older officers, told her, “No offense, but this really isn't a job for females.”

“I'm also a lesbian,” Kott said, “so that was interesting."

In order to handle some of the sexism and misogyny she's encountered over the years, Kott said it's important to have a thick skin. She found motivation through the obstacles, making it her goal to try to change their minds.  

And she's been able to do so through her work ethic and approach. "Some people feel that a good supervisor is strong-willed, hard and strict. I really think my ability to make problems into teachable moments is important, and my accessibility is huge."

Kott believes it’s important to be authentic to who she is — and she’s becoming a role model to others in the process, just by being herself.

“There are stereotypes, but you have to just show people that you belong and you have every right to be there just as much as they do,” she added. “Maybe another female officer who's also gay who’s apprehensive of going into the department, if they see someone who's risen through the ranks, someone who's accepted, that can help them be like, 'Hey, if she can do it, why can't I?’ ”

Kott wasn't always so open about herself. When she first started her job at the police department, she hid her sexuality; only a handful of people knew. But after a supervisor — whom she admired and looked up to as a father figure — encouraged her to be honest about her sexuality, she opened up to her co-workers.

He told Kott, "We've waited so long for someone like you to come along. We're going to love you for who you are."

The police department has since been fantastic in accepting her and her family, she said. One of her co-workers even ended up being a groomsman in her wedding.

Kott earned a master’s degree from Saint Joseph's University and recently earned a doctorate from the California University of Pennsylvania, in the western part of the state. She and her wife have been married for eight years now, with two young children. She describes her family as “the single best thing that's ever happened to me."

Kott was only one of three women on the force when she was hired. The two others, however, retired shortly after Kott began, leaving her as the sole woman in her department for about four years.  

Now, she’s proud to announce that there are seven women in the police force, and they are seeking to hire two more women this July.

With more women and people of color on the police force, things are slowly starting to change, Kott noted. She said it's important to have a police force that reflects the community it serves, so they feel as though the police are really there to help and not be an "occupying force."

Although she’s captain of the force, Kott is known around the police department as “Mama Bear” — she tries to help people be better, but if you mess up, "You're gonna get that paw,” she joked.

Claws aside, she said her job inspires her every day.  

“There are going to be people who don't think women should be police officers,” she continued. “There are going to be people who think a certain two people shouldn't love each other.

“Ultimately, it matters what's best for you. What's going to make you happy? Just go for it and don't let anything hold you back.”

You can meet Kott and the other amazing women honored this year at the KYW Newsradio Women’s Achievement Awards on June 27.