ST. GEORGE — For the first time in history, the Dixie State University Police Department has welcomed a female officer to the force.
Officer Mikaela Vega was welcomed to the force on Nov. 21 after graduating from the police academy. Before joining the force, Vega worked as the on-campus police department’s records keeper and security supervisor for over a year, Police Chief Blair Barfuss told St. George News.
“She wanted to be a police officer, so she took the previous position trying to learn and develop in preparation for this change,” he said.
Vega relocated to Dixie State before Barfuss was hired about 18 months ago where she worked security for the university. Prior to coming to St. George, she earned her bachelor’s degree from a university in the Midwest and participated in the athletics department as a collegiate athlete in basketball and volleyball.
Barfuss said one of the key demographics of successful police officers is student-athletes with college degrees because they are familiar with teamwork and dedication. While working on campus, Vega had garnered a reputation for her “second-to-none” work ethic and reliability.
It was her desire to go above and beyond that really caught the eye of other officers. In her off-time, Barfuss said, Vega became a victim’s advocate with the Dove Center and worked to represent victims of crime.
“On top of being female, she had all of the desirable traits and qualities that we were looking for, and she excelled in the hiring process, so we hired her,” he said.
Once Vega completes field training she will fulfill her specialized role on campus as a victim specialist to represent and help victims of crime through the criminal justice process.
Since 1975 when the department was founded, Vega is the first, and currently the only, female officer on staff. Barfuss said he can’t speak to the time before he was hired, but he does recognize the diversity the department had coming into the job, including officers of different ethnic and racial backgrounds.
“We are a very small department of seven sworn and 15 reserve officers at a Division I university with over 11,000 students,” he said in a previous statement. “I do not know why it took 44 years, but I am beyond thrilled we have Officer Vega as part of our Trailblazer community.”
Since his hiring in May 2018, Barfuss has created a five-year strategic plan for the department to address the university’s significant growth. One of the first things he said he noticed after taking over the position was that staffing levels had not changed in the 10 years before his time at the university, despite the institution having “changed substantially in that time period.”
Barfuss secured funding and approval to create a reserve officer program and has already hired five reserve officers who work full-time at other police departments. These officers will fill time slots that cannot be covered by on-campus, full-time officers as well as assist with university events. He said he expects to hire about 10 more, for a total of 15, before the new year.
The city of St. George and the St. George Police Department have been instrumental in proving assistance and ensuring the safety of students as the department grows and develops, he said.
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