Faces of the Atlanta Fed: Meisha Oliver, New Orleans Branch Law Enforcement Department
The New Orleans Branch of the Atlanta Federal Reserve. Photo by Ted Pio Roda.
Sergeant Meisha Oliver earned her nickname of "Mama Meisha" for the care she provides fellow officers in the Law Enforcement Department of the New Orleans Branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta.
"Our number one goal is not the money or the building. It's taking care of your people, and Meisha always takes care of her people first," said Lieutenant Neil Gonzalez, Oliver's supervisor, who has worked with her for 15 years.
Oliver said she keeps a watchful eye on colleagues, whether the job is patrolling the Bank's perimeter or advising fellow officers on best practices. "I always look out for the officers," Oliver said. "Whether they're new or have been here, I'll always point them in the right direction and say, 'You can do it your way, but this is our way.'"
Oliver has broken barriers as she has emerged as a team leader. When hired as a law enforcement officer in 2005, Oliver was 22 years old. In 2008, at 25, Oliver was promoted to sergeant. In 2012, at 29, Oliver won the Professional Service Award, the department's highest recognition.
The fast track came with hazards to navigate. Racial issues had been addressed by Black male and female officers already working in the department, but Oliver's promotion to a supervisory role presented matters of gender and age for her to navigate.
"Law enforcement has always been male dominated. To look at it from a different perspective, I believe there's room for growth," Oliver said. "Being in a new leadership position, several colleagues had kids my age, which often generated comments like, 'My child is your age, and you now supervise me!' It was those types of battles. My rebuttal was, 'I am here to ensure job performance according to policies and procedures so everyone can go home to their families.'"
Commanding presence in the field
Now, New Orleans Branch law enforcement chief Alfred Travis is encouraging Oliver to pursue another promotion. He's also recruiting Oliver to teach a course for her colleagues in physical control, meaning the various techniques of restraining subjects in ways that reduce potential harm to officers.
Travis speaks highly of Oliver. He commended her fitness for duty, organizational strengths, and commanding presence in the field. Travis also took a moment to emphasize's compassion and team-building efforts. He searched his cell phone to show a video of Oliver on stage at an Employee Appreciation Day. She had stepped up to rally support for the event when others expressed half-hearted interest in reviving it after the pandemic.
"Meisha gave the welcoming speech, dressed up as Annie Oakley," Travis said. "You can definitely count on Meisha to be part of any Bank function or community initiative."
Gonzalez made a similar point about Oliver's focus on team building. "Getting people together for lunch or dinner is something she's always led, so that people get to know each other as people more so than as coworkers," Gonzalez said. "Glue is a good way to describe her efforts."
This is where the Atlanta Fed's record of opportunity comes into play.
"I think we've done a phenomenal job of giving women in law enforcement an opportunity to advance," Nieves said.
Making a difference in a different way
Oliver hadn't intended to pursue a career in policing. As a child, Oliver said, she wanted to be a lawyer. But as crime rates rose and she became aware of the growing number of young women in the penal system, she said she wanted to make a difference in a different way. Oliver said she decided that visible young female officers may provide role models and pathways of communications that were sorely lacking, particularly in communities of color.
Oliver earned a bachelor's degree in criminal justice from Southern University and Agricultural and Mechanical College in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. She was handling insurance filings in a dermatologist's office, knowing it was a stopgap job, when New Orleans Branch law enforcement senior corporal Derrick Morgan encouraged her to apply for an open position at the Bank.
Oliver was accepted. She completed the Federal Reserve law enforcement training academy and started work as an officer in July 2005, two months before Hurricane Katrina came ashore on August 29. The storm surge overwhelmed the city's flood protection system, and her home was among those flooded. She evacuated to Alabama to stay with her father's family and consider her options. A return to the Bank was not a certainty.
"We didn't know if the Bank would reopen, because no one knew the level of flood water damage to the building or the impact of possible damage to the Bank's daily operations," Oliver said. "It was a time of precautionary planning, which led me to even consider applying for a teaching position. Fortunately, the Bank called for us to return to work in October or November. There's no place like the New Orleans Branch to work. We returned to work on 12-hour shifts for three months."
One of Oliver's hurricane work stories involves the stench of burning money.
"We had to burn flood-contaminated money," Oliver said. "That's a smell like nothing in your life, just grotesque. The money had sat in flood waters for several days in other bank vaults until they were able to reopen and retrieve these monies. We were getting monies from every part of the state."
Attention to detail, concern for safety
During the beginning of her career, Oliver frequently asked her sergeants questions about the operations. Her own responses were direct, judging by one example she offered.
"The sergeants at that time ran the command center only, and I started asking questions, like 'How does this work? How does that work?'" Oliver said. "One sergeant questioned me why I wanted to know, and I said, 'You may have an emergency or be engaged in other activities like a meeting when something happens. For the safety of Bank personnel and facility assets, I want to be able to act responsibly and professionally."
Gonzalez, Oliver's supervisor, included in his description of Oliver's performance her interest in learning all aspects of the job, matters that relate to tenants and directors, cash, and facilities. The common threads he cited are attention to details and concern for the safety of officers.
"It's not that Meisha has to be the best. It's just who she is," Gonzalez said. "She doesn't let things go undone or give excuses. She checks all the boxes and completes all the tasks. She takes seriously the responsibility for others."
As Oliver looks to the future, the goals she highlighted signal the sense of caring for others that was cited by her chief. "I want to always represent women in law enforcement in a positive light, to encourage women to step outside of their comfort zone and take on challenges that can change their lives for the better."