We had the opportunity to sit down and have a one on one discussion with Assistant Chief Shannon Bendiksen (SB). She spoke on her thoughts about being the first female assistant chief in the agency’s 100 year history. Blazing trail and writing history is nothing new for AC Bendiksen, she, along with Captain Trisena Sharff were the team that became the first female captains to lead the two divisions of the Commercial Vehicle Enforcement Bureau.

The interview was conducted by Sgt. Darren Wright (DW).

DW: When were you hired?

SB: February of 2000

DW: What made you choose the WSP?

SB: I had a degree in early childhood education, and was working as a substitute teacher. I wasn’t quite sure it was a career I wanted to continue with. I enjoyed the teaching but some of the administrative aspects I found were not real appealing.

A family friend who worked for Olympia PD talked me into a ride along, which opened the door into thinking about law enforcement. My uncle was a Lt. in the WSP at the time, nearing his retirement. WSP was hiring and Olympia PD was not, and the potential to be an instructor at the academy it the future, which linked in with her teaching background, so she tested and got hired.

DW: Were you planning on going into law enforcement?

SB: No, I played cops and robbers as kids, but as far as a career, no.

DW: What class did you graduate from?

SB: I was in the 86th Trooper Basic.

DW: What is your “career highlight”?

SB: A lot of things that I remember in my 21+ year career, but probably the biggest highlight for me is when I got walked upstairs to the Chief’s office and he promoted me to the Captain of the Training Division. As I look on my career I think the Training Division assignment really fit who I am and were probably some of the most rewarding years, because of the ability to teach and engage with the students or the cadets that we would ultimately get commissioned. So being out there as the commander for four almost five years, just very rewarding and challenging, but amazing people out there, really good energy. It just felt purposeful.

(This brought her right back to where she had hoped to be an instructor from the beginning.)

DW: Can you take us through your career path?

AC Bendiksen with
Retired Captain M. Dahl

SB: I started as a cadet in the Bremerton area where I worked VATS security and as an assistance patrol cadet. When I got commissioned, I was sent to Everett, where I spent nearly nine years. I was promoted to Sergeant in Everett, and shortly after my promotion I moved to Internal Affairs as a detective sergeant. I spent about 18 months and then transferred out to the Academy where I was the Control Tactics and Weapons Sergeant and spent about two years there.

I was promoted out of there as a Lieutenant to the Motor Carrier Safety Division, and spent 16 months there, and that’s when the Chief promoted me to Captain to the Training Division. I spent I think 5 years there. The Chief moved me back to Motor Carriers as the Commander, and I spent probably another 16 months there and then he promoted me to this position.

DW: What does it feel like to be the first female AC in the agencies 100 year history?

SB: It is hard to wrap that into just one word. I mean obviously it is an honor, and I am humbled by the Chief’s selection of me to this position. It is a little bit intimidating, just because there is a lot of expectations on what’s the first female going to do. It is exciting, my kids love it. I have two girls 11 and 9 who think it is the coolest thing that their mom is the very first female assistant chief for the agency in the 100 year history, so yes, I am very honored to be in this position.

DW: What would you say to a younger female that wants to be like you?

SB: So, a couple of things there, one thing is that when you work in a male dominated agency, you have to recognize that times are going to be tough. You are going to have different experiences, than your peers. Building that resilience and being able to work your way through that is very valuable. So, you know there’s comparisons that happen, but being yourself, kind of embracing who you are and recognizing that there is value that you bring, a different value that you bring to a law enforcement organization.  As far as any career advancement, if there’s folks that want career advancement, there are different experiences. I was a field training officer, I was a drug recognition expert, I took on some additional instructor type assignments, like Sector statewide and so I picked up a few other small things just to get more exposure and experience with the agency. The different assignments I have had have given me a better understanding of how the agency operates, which helped in the further promotions. Because being in this chair, if I only had one solo job I had done in the agency up to this point, I wouldn’t have an understanding of how the agency operates. So, all of that variety of assignments has really helped me have a better understanding being in this position. And then learn from people as you go, pick up the things people do well, take on those things. For me, the greatest value I have had when times have been tough is focusing on my people, and what they need from me, and serving them. Because there have been plenty of times where things have been challenging and tough and frustrating, but when I turn my attention to kind of serving the division or the work group that I oversee, that is where my value comes in. I kind of lean into that. And that’s been very helpful.

Chief Bendiksen is married to another WSP employee. She spoke about what it is like to be married to another trooper.

AC Bendiksen with her
husband Trooper Bendiksen

SB: He and I met in the agency, I had been on for about seven years, when he joined the agency. He currently works in Human Resources, as a polygrapher.  I would say there has been more benefits than challenges, just because we were able to relate to one another from an agency standpoint. We work for the same agency. Some of the stressors, frustrations, excitement and experiences are similar. One challenge is that we have different perspectives. He has his experience and his perspective and his personality and how he deals with things, and I have got mine. And so, the greatest challenge is probably being able to see through his lens more than I do, and for him to try to see through my lens to provide that support to one another. But otherwise it is pretty cool to be working in the same agency with my husband, and see him on occasion.

DW: Anything else you would like to add?

SB: The one thing about this agency that’s been really cool, is that I feel that I am a different person from when I first started. There are so many opportunities. Oftentimes folks get bored in jobs, and I like to be challenged so it’s been really great being with this agency in particular because there’s so many different things you can do. If you get bored in an area, you can go to a different one. If you get bored in a job, you can go find a different one. And literally I have had several different jobs, you can look at it like I have had different jobs in the same agency, and been able to build on the 21+ year career.

I am very proud to be with this agency and very thankful for what it has provided to me, and now being here as an Assistant Chief, it was not on my goal list. My goal was to be a captain before I retired, I certainly wasn’t in a rush to get there. It’s pretty exciting to be in this chair, and see how I can contribute and provide value back.

The WSP understands the value of a diverse workforce that better reflects the communities and public we serve.   Recent efforts like the creation of the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, reorganizing and expanding agency recruitment efforts in minority communities, and signing the 30X30 pledge to significantly increase the number of qualified female applicants by the year 2030 hold great promise for the agency’s future.  Assistant Chief Shannon Bendiksen will be an important part of the future as she is also making history.  By helping the agency recognize and remove any historical barriers to service and ensuring that every qualified candidate has the opportunity to serve and succeed, she is an example of confidence, competence and perseverance in the pursuit of personal and professional goals that should inspire us all. 

Congratulations Assistant Chief Shannon Bendiksen on your promotion and thank you for your service and leadership.  

You can watch Assistant Chief Bendiksen’s promotional ceremony here.