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First woman promoted to sergeant at county jail

MAYVILLE — It didn’t take long for April Steenburn to start thinking big in terms of career advancement within the Chautauqua County Jail.

A 1998 Frewsburg High School graduate, she attended the Sheriff’s Academy and began working part-time in July 2000 as a corrections officer at the Mayville facility. At just 20 years old when hired, she wasn’t quite sure which path down the law enforcement trail she would take; however, one thing was certain: she planned to advance in a field that had for decades been dominated by men in upper-management.

“I was just so young,” Steenburn said of her early years as a corrections officer. “I thought I might branch out in other areas. I started out at the jail part-time and I figured I might work my way into law enforcement elsewhere. I liked the one end, parole, probation. I contemplated crime scene school. I had envisioned some path, but I just found myself enjoying what I was doing over at the jail.”

Her goal of one day managing a staff has come to fruition as Steenburn was recently promoted to sergeant at the jail — the first woman to be in that role in the county jail’s history.

“I have always wanted to be a sergeant,” she said. “I always wanted to be the first woman. With law enforcement for women, it’s not always easy to move up. We’ve come a long way over the years. It’s hard to get that equality, to have women in managing positions. As a female, you have to be able to carry yourself and let stuff roll off your back.”

Her path toward becoming a sergeant was not necessarily a quick one. Due to a hiring freeze at the time, she did not become a full-time employee of the Sheriff’s Office until June 2007.

She took her first exam for the sergeant position in 2012. “You have to wait for someone to retire and it depends on the civil service test,” Steenburn said.

During her time working as a corrections officer at the jail, the Jamestown resident said helping inmates has always been one of her goals. She noted that jail employees “can’t reach every inmate, but if you help just one, you feel this sense of accomplishment.”

Steenburn said on her first official day as a sergeant last week, she received a lot of support, from both fellow employees and even some of the inmates. She praised her co-workers and the effort they have put in to keeping the community safe and to help inmates where possible.

She also hopes her promotion will help other women looking to advance in the profession.

“It’s always been kind of taboo with pros and cons for it,” she said. “There are some who are against it and don’t feel we can be strong enough and just feel like it’s a male’s field. A female officer paves the way. I think it will push others to go into law enforcement, not just be stuck or given a hard time.”

There are currently 32 female corrections officers and six female patrol officers employed by the Sheriff’s Office.

Asked of a moment that has stood out during her tenure, Steenburn noted being thanked for her work recently by a stranger while getting gas. She said the kind gesture reminded her that there are good people out there, and of the hard work being done — especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

As for the coronavirus, which has altered how companies and organizations have had to handle day-to-day operations, safety has remained a constant concern at the jail.

“We’ve done an excellent job keeping COVID out of there,” Steenburn said. “They’re keeping things clean and keeping people safe. Releasing inmates who were close to completing their sentences, it was a good move. It opened up more room where we could quarantine new inmates coming in. … It’s been a weird ride since March. It’s been sort of surreal with things shut down.”

Steenburn thanked Sheriff James Quattrone for believing in her for the position. The sheriff, in return, noted her hard work.

“Sgt. Steenburn has been a dedicated employee of the Sheriff’s Office for many years and has earned her promotion as a result of her hard work,” Quattrone said. “Sgt. Steenburn has shown that while doing her job as a corrections officer she conducts herself in a professional, compassionate and respectful manner.”

As for her goals in the position, Steenburn plans to keep things simple.

“I want to work as hard as I can to keep improving our department and motivate our officers to do the same,” she said. “I want to be a role model to the newer officers and pave the way for future female sergeants. Being a sergeant gives me the opportunity to do more for our department and show just how dedicated I am to the department.”

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