When I left college, like most, I suppose, I wanted to find a way to make a difference. I applied to the police department in a very large metro area and, much to my surprise, of 3000 applicants and days of testing I was hired. Boy, was I excited! This was several years ago and there were only 12 women on a force of almost 1900 officers, so I was going to be a groundbreaker!
My first groundbreaker was that I was the first woman ever to graduate first in the class from the police academy. I had a 12- month probationary period but I was on my way to doing amazing things and making meaningful changes!
I was the only woman assigned to our Sector. I was ten months into my probationary period. I was getting good reviews and looked forward to going solo in a couple of months. One night my Training Officer and I received a call of a silent alarm, possible burglary in progress. We arrived on scene, with another cover car and I was slightly surprised to see a sergeant arrive as this was unusual for a simple alarm call. “Rookie and I will cover the back,” he shouted, and directed me to the back of the building. It was down an alley and as we reached the dead end, I realized there was no back entry. Suddenly, “Mac” shoved me up against the brick building between the wall and the dumpster. He grabbed my hair at the nap of my neck and began trying to kiss me. I still remember his sickening breath of booze and cigarettes. I began retching and tried to push away. He banged my head on the wall and pushed his body against me. He ripped a button off my uniform shirt and slid his hand under my t-shirt and up under my bra. I continued to wretch and prayed I would puke on him. I was terrified and hyperventilating. (How quickly, how many women’s hopes are dashed?)
At that moment I heard voices and saw the light of flashlights on the pavement. “Mac” pulled away, grabbed my arm, and pushed me toward the officers coming around the corner. “Building’s secure”, my TO said, “Geesh! What happened to you?” “Our little rookie tripped over some concrete blocks, “Mac replied, laughing, “Go out of service and take her back to the station to clean up and change shirts.” We went back to the station, then back to work. I finished my shift, went home, and cried the rest of night. The next night (I was working the night shift) I arrived at the station for rollcall. By this time, my lip was bruised and swollen and, officers, who had no idea, kidded, and joked with me about how that happened. My dear friend and mentor saw me, pulled me into an interrogation room, and said, “Jesus, what happened?”
I never intended to tell anyone what happened and, to this day, only he and you know this story. (Yes, he. Dave was an instructor in the academy who took me under his wing. He liked and respected me, and I liked and respected him. Even more, for some reason, I trusted him.)
I, suddenly, found myself blurting it out. I couldn’t stop my mouth. It just poured out. I saw Dave’s face get hot and red and he said nothing. A moment later, his color came back, and he said, “Hon, you’re not going to like what I have to say, and I don’t like having to say it. You can go to Internal Affairs and report that piece of s***. But he is a sergeant, and you are a rookie still on probation and a woman. Your word against his and you will probably be fired. Or you can move past it, stay on the job, become the great cop you are becoming and make a difference. Leave your mark. No one can tell you what to do.”
There you have it. Because of my sisters who continued to blaze the trail forward, things are different today but then, those were my choices. I chose to stay silent.
When I left the department, I had 23 commendations and 10 service awards. I was awarded the Mayor’s Community Service Award and I was the department’s designated Gang Expert (the only woman to be designated at that time in the U.S.). Did it make a difference? Was it the right decision to stay?
“Mac” never rose above the rank of sergeant, but he did manage to stay employed until he was able to retire and receive a comfortable pension for the rest of his life. I had to see and work with him often and fear of him never diminished. How many other officers, civilians, did he molest, assault? Rape? Would my speaking out have made a difference or gotten me fired? Was it the wrong decision not to speak out?
To this day, I still think about it. Did I make the right decision?
The FBI reported that in 2019, 87.9% of full-time police officers in the United States were male. Female police officers comprised roughly 8% of full-time police officers in the mid-1980s, and, despite intense recruiting efforts, still account for only approximately 12% nationally.
Very few statistics exist as to sexual harassment incidences due to hesitation to report. Most estimates fall somewhere in between, converging on a range from 53% to 77% of all female officers (Bartol, Bergen, Volckens, & Knoras, 1992; Christopher et al., 1991; Martin, 1994; Nichols, 1995; Robinson, 1993)