Growing up in Colorado and then Maui, Hawaii, with five brothers, a father who was a fire chief, and uncles in the police department, it’s not surprising that Malia Torres gravitated toward traditionally male-dominated careers.
After graduating with a degree in fire science, Malia worked in construction, in masonry, and then as an officer in the Maui Police Department, where she retired after 15 years. While she loved her job, it came with its fair share of challenges.
Malia was one of 14 female officers in Maui, which employed 600 officers total. After taking the sergeant exam, Malia and her fellow female officers were passed over for promotions in favor of less qualified colleagues.
But the gender discrimination she faced did not stop Malia from fighting to effect change. She eventually became a sergeant within the domestic violence task force and used her experience to inform best practices within the force.
“We really changed the way the police department did business in terms of gender,” she said. “We made change, and I think for me that was the most important thing.”
Malia left Maui soon after her promotion and settled in New York after meeting her husband, a detective in the NYPD. She worked as a special investigator within the legal division of the Department of Consumer Affairs, where she used her skills to organize undercover investigations into businesses that violated consumer protection laws.
Malia began her Children’s Aid career in 2016, working for our vice president of real estate and facilities. In 2018, Children’s Aid hired Malia as a security operations manager. She built our security operations department from the ground up – hiring security guards, handling vendor relationships, writing trainings and protocols, and building relationships with our police department, communities and youth. She is currently the assistant director of security operations.
“The one thing I enjoy the most about this job is the relationships – liaising with community folks, as well as NYPD, and partnering with them to bring events and programs to our youth,” she said. “Our sites are not safe unless our communities are safe.”
Every Tuesday, Malia and her team host TAG night, which stands for “Teaching A Generation.” Children ages 12 to 20 attend the event in the South Bronx. Hosted in partnership with Community Initiatives, the event brings together students and officers from local precincts, along with guest speakers like community leaders, staff from the mayor’s office, and local residents who have built successful businesses.
“The basis is to provide something consistent whether it’s four kids or 40 kids,” Malia said. “It’s just something I’m really invested in. Our kids need that safe space.”
She also partners with our early childhood sites to provide opportunities for our toddlers and their families to learn about fire safety from the FDNY and enjoy arts and crafts with the NYPD.
While working in male-dominated fields, Malia found that her gender was an asset. She relished setting an example for her two daughters and illustrating that they too could pursue any career.
“We bring something unique to everything we do,” she said. “As a woman police officer, my strength was my ability to communicate with people. You rely on your ability to communicate and be open-minded and just be a decent human being to people. I’ve had a lot of challenges, but it’s just made me work harder to do better.”