Texas’ First Black Female Sheriff Builds Diversity Within a Political Divide

Jefferson County’s newly elected law enforcement officer, Zena Stephens, says she’s excited to be the first Black female Sheriff in Texas, but she’s not too thrilled about the moniker.


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Sheriff Stephens

Jefferson County Sheriff Zena Stephens says she's excited to be the first Black female Sheriff in Texas, but it's something she's not too thrilled about.

Though she embraces the moniker of being the first, the newly elected sheriff remains hopeful that she won't be the last.

"The fact that I'm the first in 2017 is not a lot to be proud about in our country... really, " says Stephens. "I am excited that I am the first. I think it's important because the more people who look like us, who are professionals and can do a good job—it's great to be that role model."

Prior to being sheriff, Stephens served as the first female Chief of Police at Prairie View A&M University. She's also one of only two Black female Sheriffs in the country.

"I hope to see a day where we don't have to have that conversation – that there are a lot of professionals, whether they're women or minorities," says Stephens. "I just want people to go out and do a good job. I don't want to be the first of anything – I want to be the best!"

With almost 30 years of law enforcement experience, Stephens says she's building a more diverse staff that reflects the communities they serve.

"We've hired more people from the LGBT community, probably than ever seen before at the sheriff's department, says the Beaumont native. "We've hired more minorities. But all of the individuals have a common thread: They're professionals. We're not just hiring them because they're minorities or because they're from certain communities."

She adds that residents are responding positively, saying they're seeing more personnel in sheriff's department vehicles that actually look like them.

A new traffic division has also been created that’ll help officials add more patrols in different parts of the area.

When asked about her reaction to Gov. Greg Abbott’s signing into law a bill that allows police to ask during routine stops whether someone is in the country legally, she says her office will follow state law.

Jefferson County is located about 80 miles east of Houston near the Texas-Louisiana border.

Of the county's nearly 300,000 residents, 34% are Black and nearly 20% are Hispanic.


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Eddie Robinson

Eddie Robinson

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A native of Mississippi, Eddie started his radio career as a 10th grader, working as a music jock for a 100,000-Watt (Pop) FM station and a Country AM station simultaneously. While Mississippi Governor Ray Mabus had nominated him for the U.S. Naval Academy in 1991, Eddie had an extreme passion...

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