December 14, 2023 / News

HERstory: Sgt. Detective Deborah Clem

As we prepare to celebrate Assistant Chief Sandra Albrektsen with a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2024 Women in Blue Luncheon, each week we’ll be sharing a story of a female leader at the San Diego Police Department. The “HERstory” campaign is a vibrant tribute to the Honor, Excellence, and Resilience displayed by our women in blue, shedding light on the remarkable women behind the uniform.

How many years have you served in law enforcement/public safety? 

I have worked in law enforcement for 23 years, all with the San Diego Police Department.

What inspired you to pursue a career in public safety? What do you think women contribute to this male-dominated industry?

I worked in the restaurant industry for about 10 years before joining SDPD.  My dad is retired from SDPD, so he was an inspiration, but after working in restaurants, I knew I had more to give to the world.  Women contribute a unique strength to police work.  Many years ago, when I was BRAND new, I had what turned out to be an important conversation with a dear friend.  At the time, I was obsessing over “being like a man…”  I kept thinking, “I gotta think like a man, approach this like a man…”  After several minutes of listening to me, she responded, “But, why?  You’re not a man, you’re a woman.  What if you bring a woman’s strength to the job?  What does that look like?  It’s different from a man’s strength. You’re a woman, bring a woman’s strength.”  This conversation was pivotal to my approach to police work.

How has the Women in Blue Initiative impacted you?

The various luncheons/functions have inspired me to share my process.  I’ve heard many great stories over the years and wanted to share mine.

Tell us about a time when you were mentored or supported in your career. 

I’ve had so many mentors who supported me over the years.  Not to sound cliché, but my husband David, who is retired, was an early mentor.  He introduced me to Fabio Santos, my Brazilian Jiu Jitsu instructor.  I started practicing Brazilian Jiu Jitsu in 2005, and then took on a second art, Arnis-Eskrima, in 2011.  Practicing two dynamic martial arts gave a confidence in the field that became like a concrete foundation.  Several years into my training, I distinctly remember stepping out of the patrol car and thinking, “ahhhhhh, okay, I’ve got this.”  It was a calm, quiet, confident moment.

This year’s theme is HERstory; what does that mean to you?

I view “HERstory” as a responsibility.  It means we (women) have a responsibility to step into the arena as colleagues and accomplish any given mission, to create our unique story.

Can you share an example or experience that illustrates how Chief Albrektsen’s leadership has influenced your own leadership journey?

I don’t know if I have enough computer memory to write about Chief A, but here is one story…. When I was at Vice, I had a career counseling session with her. I was looking into other assignments but felt like my overall experience was much lighter than my colleagues.  Several minutes and questions later she had helped me flush out the finer points of my work assignments and I walked out of the room with more gold than I had before I entered the room.

The 13th annual Women in Blue Luncheon: “HERstory,” honors Assistant Chief Sandra Albrektsen for her remarkable contributions to the Women in Blue Initiative and over 40 years of service with the San Diego Police Department. Join us on February 27, 2024, at the Hilton San Diego Bayfront.

The luncheon brings business and community leaders together to recognize the achievements of female leaders in the public safety sector and to celebrate gender diversity in an occupation traditionally pursued by men. Elevating inclusion, leadership, and the empowerment of women, the initiative propels the advancement and representation of women in policing.

To register or learn more, go to To register and pay by check, download the Women in Blue Pledge Form.