Deputy Chief Kathryn Mengel achieved many “firsts” in the Cleveland Police. She was the first woman promoted under the “open” civil service exam (where men and women competed against each other and were placed on the same promotion list), first female Sergeant, first woman assigned to the Internal Affairs Unit, first female Lieutenant, first female Captain (she finished first on that Captain’s exam). She was also the first female appointed Commander and the first female Deputy Chief in the department. And while achieving all these “firsts,” she attended law school and passed the bar in her spare time.
After graduating from Miami University of Ohio, Mengel worked as a counselor at the Ohio Bureau of Employment Services, but she felt bored with the job. Looking for a challenge, she took the police exam in 1969, joining the force later that year as part of the Women’s Bureau. In 1976, after the Fraternal Order of Police sued the department to allow permanent promotion on the basis of the civil service exam, Mengel was promoted to Sergeant. She was the first woman to be promoted in the CPD from an “open” exam. Prior to 1976, all promotions of female officers happened within the Women’s Bureau, but since the numbers of women in the Bureau was limited, the chances for promotion were slim. The Plain Dealer noted: “Kathryn Mengel was promoted to sergeant. She will become the first woman in the internal affairs unit.”
Mengel continued her rise within the ranks. In 1980, while working in the Police Academy, Mengel scored second-highest on the exam and the division promoted her to Lieutenant. And just two years later, in 1982, “for the first time in Cleveland police history, a woman received the highest score on a promotional exam.” Mengel outscored 42 people to become the first female promoted to Captain through the “open” exam. At that time, “The department has one woman with the rank of captain. Violet Novak of the 3d District was promoted when men and women took separate promotional exams more than 10 years ago.”
That same year, Mengel enrolled in Cleveland Marshal School of Law, where she attended classes in the evenings while working towards her law degree. After matriculating to the state bar, she received permission from the department to practice law in her off-duty hours, making sure there were no possible conflicts with her police work.
In 1988, Mengel became the first woman promoted to Commander. The Division assigned her to the Bureau of Human Resources, where she was in charge of personnel and training.
Kathryn became the first female Deputy Chief of Police and was assigned to Administrative Operations in 1994 where she oversaw the Bureau of Human Resources and Bureau of Administrative Services.
After twenty-six years of service, Mengel retired from the police force in 1995 and pursued her law work full time. Police Chief John Collins said, “She will be difficult to replace, more importantly for her skills. She’s a very excellent manager and police official. She is a first-rate individual and she will be sorely missed.”
Over her successful career, she worked in the Juvenile Unit, the Police Academy, the Detective Bureau, the Bureau of Human Resources, and finally as Deputy Chief of Administrative Operations where she “laid the groundwork for the department’s civilian plan, developed policy for the use of pepper spray, rewrote numerous policies on many police practices from use of deadly force to police chases.”