Leanne Fitch has been with the Fredericton Police Force for 28 years. (City of Fredericton)

Atlantic Canada's first female police chief says conditions are improving for women police officers.

But Leanne Fitch, who was named chief of the Fredericton Police Force this week, admits there's still room for improvement, particularly in the higher ranks.

"We still have a long way in terms of equal representation of women in policing in general, but really, in the executive level, right across the country, the numbers are still rather small," she said.

Fitch was the fifth woman hired on the Fredericton force 28 years ago.

"Thinking back on some of my early calls and some of the challenges I faced within the community and the organization —whether it was what type of call you're going to be dispatched on, to whether or not the complainant was going to take you seriously when you arrived on scene. So I'm really happy to say that over the course of my career, that has changed significantly," she said.

Of the 113 officers currently with the city department, 25 are women.

Extensive competition

Fitch had been serving as acting chief of the Fredericton force since last summer, when Chief Barry MacKnight retired.

She officially took over the position on a permanent basis on Monday night after an extensive national competition that attracted more than 30 candidates.

She was previously the deputy chief.

'We’ve got an exceptional individual here who brings a unique combination of on-street policing experience and management leadership.' —Wayne Tallon, City of Fredericton

"We’ve got an exceptional individual here who brings a unique combination of on-street policing experience and management leadership," the city's director of public safety Wayne Tallon stated in a release.

"I believe she’s the right person to bring our police force into the 21st century," he said.

Staff Sgt. Brian Ford expects Fitch will bring some innovative ideas to the post.

"Look at the neighbourhood action team as an example of the way that she thinks — very out of the box," he told CBC News.

"And she's always willing to take on an old issue from a new angle. I think we're looking forward to a pretty exciting time."

Fitch has said her initial focus will be on implementing the strategic plan for the Fredericton Police Force, which was endorsed by city council last month.

Fitch has served in many functions of the city police department over the years including: patrol response, street crime unit, criminal investigation division, community policing, media, training and patrol platoon supervisor. She has also served as the special munitions team leader and Taser instructor for the crowd management team. 

In 2002, she was named officer of the year for the Atlantic Women in Law Enforcement. The following year, she was named officer of the year by the International Association of Women Police.