I find it hard to write about my police work experience. Writing fiction helps me transform the emotions into a positive and gain perspective. People keep asking for the non-fiction version; this is what I remember:
I left a police career because I felt I had fought the good fight and could fight no longer without jeopardizing my humanness. The untenable love-hate relationship where the odds are stacked against you to triumph over tragedy and death can be intoxicating and all consuming. Consuming being the optimum word. Before I write about the lure of police work, let me give you some history.
I graduated with scholastic honors in April of 1980 from the 15th DeKalb County Police Academy. After three years of being scared every shift that I would fail, put another person’s life in danger, or humiliate myself in front of my fellow officers, I decided I had seen enough, not every situation, but enough to warrant the respect of being a full-fledged officer, not a rookie. I could’ve taken the sergeant’s test, but I waited. I wanted to be sure “beyond a reasonable doubt” I could lead the men who created rumors about me to discredit my character, downrated my decision-making abilities, gave me unjustified low evaluations, and refused to give me the training necessary to gain the certificates required to qualify to take promotional exams. While they refused to allow me to take any vacation days for over three years, I waited. I trained. I studied. I steeled my heart.
Some officers began to speak to me in the hallways. Remember: Paramilitary organizations aren’t friendly to newcomers, and I was thought of as a female taking away a man’s job.
When I wouldn’t accept a low evaluation without documentation from my sergeant, they called in the big gun, my major. He advised me to reconsider being an officer. I remember he blessed me out, ordered me to stay put in his office, and then he played the game of leaving a folder with my name on it on his desk before he left in disgust. He had told me I was more suited to be a secretary, should re-evaluate, and emphasized I wasn’t cut out for law enforcement.
He accused me of being emotionally unstable because I had teared up while asking for an audience with my sergeant about the low eval. The sergeant refused to talk to me. (By the way, I later learned this was illegal that an employee must be given time to talk to their evaluator.) I asked for a day of vacation. The sergeant refused.
When the major returned, he suggested I resign.
I refused. I told him I had a child to raise and wasn’t leaving police work until I was ready to go, and he could tell all the other ranking officers I was there to stay. Also, I demanded a vacation day, and dared him to write me up. I believe this was the first time I ever stood up to an authority figure. I was the good girl, the middle child, always happy to please and work harder than anyone else. In fiction, we would call this a turning point in the plot and a big change in the character.
Overnight, I was transferred from North to South Precinct, the high-crime area. They thought they were punishing me. I loved it.
The working environment became more hostile. I joined other women officer who deserved to gain rank based on their test scores. We asked for an audience with the Director of Public Safety and Chief of Police. They told us to sue. They knew it would take years and money for a lawyer. In the meantime, they wouldn’t have any female sergeants, and they could crank up the propaganda mill to cause resentment among the officers who were neutral about female officers being on the streets. They knew without female sergeants there couldn’t be female lieutenants, captains, or majors. In 1986, the first female sergeant was given her strips. When I left in 2003, we had one female captain.
I joined the International Association for Women Police and helped other women in law enforcement from other agencies charter a chapter in Georgia and hold a conference in Atlanta in 1988. I was determined to obtain training geared for a female officer. I went back to GSU to finish my degree.
I learned to document every detail of my daily work, each conversation with my ranking officers. I watched what I said and how I said it. They criticized my voice/radio traffic as being too soft, too fast, or hysterical. After many unwarranted verbal dress downs, stealing stats from my daily activity sheets, consistently sending me on the last call of the shift, and demanding I redo spotless paperwork, I bought a pocket tape recorder. By the way, I was a single parent, and they liked to change my shift without notice, and make me stay late to do paperwork while I was forced to pay someone to watch my child.
In those days an officer was not paid overtime if you stayed late finishing paperwork. Overtime pay took another suit that I wasn’t directly involved in.
One particular hard-nosed sergeant called me at home, and made me come to the precinct on an off day so he could yell at me about a ticket I wrote. This was totally unprofessional and uncalled for on the sergeant’s part. I wore a white T-shirt, tennis shoes, and blue jeans, the only jeans I owned. The sergeant started a rumor that I came to the precinct braless. This lie haunted me throughout my career: Officer L.D. Holmes (my last name before I remarried in 1984) came to the precinct “no bra, with her tits bouncing.” Over twenty years later, a young rookie asked me if the rumor was true.