116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — A’alyiah and Salena Watkins have admired police officers since they were children, and in February they made history as the first pair of Black sisters on the Cedar Rapids Police Department.
A’alyiah, 23, has been with the department since 2019, and Salena, 22, completed her first solo patrol on Feb. 5.
The Watkins sisters, both officers, aren’t the first sisters the police department has had on staff, but they are the first pair to both go on patrol, and they are the first pair of Black sisters.
“We enjoy it a lot. We’re on the same shift, same hours, same days off, so I get to see a lot of her. It’s been great. I think it helps with the spirit,” A’alyiah said.
Salena said as she’s still learning the ropes of being a police officer, she often calls her sister with questions.
Even though A’alyiah has been on the force longer, she said Salena helps her as well.
“We always got along as kids and as we’ve grown up we still call each other almost every day just to speak with each other. So it’s really helpful. She helps me on calls. I help her. It’s nice to have that sister bond,” A’alyiah said.
Both sisters had been interested in joining the police department for most of their lives. They looked up to the police officers that visited their elementary school as part of the police PAL program, and they were close with their school resource officers in middle and high school.
Salena and A’alyiah were involved in a police youth academy when they were teenagers, and in 2018 they were asked to help the police department with a lip sync challenge video that focused on ending gun violence.
The video featured several people who had been killed by gun violence, including the sisters’ cousin, Senquez Jackson, who was unintentionally shot and killed when he was 15.
The Watkins said they know people who have been involved in previous criminal activity, and they sometimes run into them on the job. Having those previous relationships can help them connect with people easier, they said.
“Not only do we recognize them, but they recognize us, and I think that’s extremely important,” Salena said. “It makes it a lot easier that we already have that relationship.
“We’re able to build that rapport with them while on the streets and they’re willing to talk to us.”
Even with people they don’t already know, the sisters said sometimes they find it easier to make a connection because they don’t fit the stereotype many people hold of cops only being white males.
“I would say for both being women and being Black, people acknowledge that all the time,” A’alyiah said. “Especially in domestic situations, (victims) tend to speak more with females. And a lot of Black people usually like to speak with Black people.
“I think it’s definitely helped me on certain calls to be a female or Black.”
The sisters said that in everything they do, from the lip sync video when they were teenagers to their jobs now, they want to make the community a safer place for everyone.
“We know that in order to see change, it’s helpful if we are part of something that we want to see different,” Salena said.
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