The women of Monterey County's police forces fight crime in their own way.
Thursday, June 27, 2002
Photo by Randy Tunnell.
Photo: Julie Stradan (Seaside PD)and Kathy Hale (Pacific Grove PD)
Officer Kathy Hale walks through the jail at the Pacific Grove Police Department. It''s Saturday morning and silent. More of a holding tank, the jail''s designed to book and keep people for a maximum of six hours, but sometimes that''s enough time to put the fear of God into them.
Hale gestures to the two barred cells next to the guard''s station. Today both are vacant. "If a woman''s mentally ill or intoxicated and there''s space available, I''ll put her in these men''s cells, so we can keep a better eye on her," Hale says. She walks over to a door outside the booking room and into another holding cell. "This one''s more private- it''s intended for women and juveniles-but it scares a lot of people."
She unlocks the heavy door to a small, dark, windowless room with a one-piece toilet-sink-no way to disassemble it for a weapon-and a rectangular slab of cement with a vinyl pad on top. There''s a sliding partition in the door.
"You learn to never unlock the door until you look and see where they are," she says. "I''ve had them crouch down behind the door and spring up on me when I unlock it."
Hale''s learned from experience to expect the worst. She recalls that she had her "face broken" six years ago after receiving a call when she was out patrolling on the night shift.
"There was a bloody man running down the street naked," she says. "My first thought was PCP-they always want to get naked."
Later, she says, she found out that the 17-year-old had taken 10 hits of acid, torn up his apartment, and run through his sliding glass door.
"He was doing fine with me," she recalls. " I was cuffing him when my male partner showed up. My partner put his hand on the guy and he lost it and swung around and punched my face."
Hale''s cheekbone broke in three places.
"It didn''t hurt at the time," she says. "I finished cuffing him."
As a woman in law enforcement, Hale faces an often ugly world, and responds with the unique skills her female perspective brings to the job. Using calming qualities that often cause suspects to knock off fighting, Hale has managed to de-escalate potentially explosive situations.
Talking to Hale and four of her fellow female police officers in Monterey County, it''s clear that there''s a distinctly female quality that these women bring to their jobs. Many say that the use of their voices is sometimes enough to quell violence. But while these women may have some gender traits in common, they still handle their jobs differently, drawing on their individual strengths in given situations. Depending on her life experience-Monterey Police Detective Wendy Lundgren is 30, whereas Hale is a grandmother-each cop brings a distinct skill set to the job.
One Tough Grandmother
In her 20 years as a police officer, the last 15 spent in Pacific Grove, Hale has methodically followed through on situations that require a strong stomach and a clear head. Being a female hasn''t sheltered her from the wide range of duties sworn police officers find themselves encountering. "When you think you''ve seen everything," she says, "you haven''t."
Although Hale is one of only three women in a department of 31, she says she hasn''t had any real difficulties performing her job in a world of mostly male faces.
The low percentage of women in the PG Police Department comes close to national statistics. In a 2001 study, "Equality Denied," published by the National Center for Women & Policing, the authors found that in smaller agencies with sworn personnel under 100, women accounted for only 8.1 percent of sworn law enforcement. In larger agencies, with over 100 sworn officers, women account for 12.7 percent of positions the department. The writers of the study warn that the number of women entering law enforcement is slowing down.
On the Monterey Peninsula, Carmel is the only town currently lacking sworn female officers. In every municipality, boys outnumber girls by a lot.
But Hale isn''t complaining about the representation.
"I''d much rather work with men than women-it''s easier," she says.
Pacific Grove Police Captain William Kennedy says he actively recruits for female police officers. He believes women have valuable assets to offer policing.
"I absolutely want women," Kennedy says. "Women have a great ability to multi-task, and may see a situation more like a mother."
Hale accepts the characterization that her ability to empathize with and listen to a suspect may prevent the need for force.
"Sometimes I step in and start talking and it defuses the whole situation," Hale says. "Whereas male-to-male it''s getting volatile."
Kennedy readily admits that the attitude towards women in policing was not so friendly when the shift towards sworn women police officers took place in the ''70s. Up until 1968, the females in the Pacific Grove Police Department were called "matrons," and weren''t allowed on patrol.
Hale doesn''t let her gender hold her back from being one of the boys. "I''ve been on the bottom of the dog pile when we take someone down," she says. "I get physical."
"It kind of takes some guys aback," Kennedy says.
Still, Hale sometimes leaves things to the guys. As a member of the DARE anti-drug team in the local schools, Hale has befriended her students to the point where she feels she''s lost the ability to intimidate.
"If a kid needs to be really scared instead of mothered, I''ll have one of the guys do it," she says.
And in turn, the guys leave things to her.
Kennedy insists the role reversal goes both ways. As women take on traditionally more male tasks, men take on so-called female duties.
"The matrons used to handle female things," says Kennedy. "But now if there is a rape, we find that a victim of a sexual assault doesn''t usually care about the gender as long as the person is empathetic and sensitive."
"Look at him," calls Hale to a parking enforcement officer walking through the station. "You can''t call him a meter maid!"
For all the talk of shifting roles in policing, there are often male-versus-female physical differences that police equipment does not take into account. Hale attempted motorcycle patrol, but found her feet didn''t reach the ground.
"I can''t expect the department to buy new bikes just because of my height," she says.
Then there''s the 25-pound "Sam Brown" belt that holds the police radio, pepper spray, two sets of handcuffs, and 9mm Glock. The belt can be very uncomfortable and cause bruising and back pain to smaller women. Hale looks forward to the new "Sally Brown" belts that flare at the hips-"to fit a woman''s body."
Equipment challenges aside, most in law enforcement have thrown aside the notion that a woman''s typically smaller stature and inferior upper body strength have an impact on her ability to handle physical situations.
Acting Captain Mick Vernon of the Seaside Police Department, which has five female officers and 33 male officers, agrees that physical differences can be a challenge to some women in police work, but not as much as in the past.
"Most people will tell you that physical strength and size are important, but I don''t necessarily agree," he says."I may get a woman who''s five-seven, 145 pounds, and played college basketball, and in the same batch I may get a guy who''s five-six, 130 pounds, and never played any sports. The same challenge is there for men and women."
Detective Wendy Lundgren of the Monterey Police Department, standing taller than Captain Vernon at six feet, found the physical challenges in police work easily met.
But Lundgren says even without her height advantage, obstacles like getting over the six-foot wall in the academy are no big deal.
"I saw a girl who was five-four go over it like nothing," she says. "It''s just about technique. Girls tend to throw a leg up, whereas guys pull up."
Vernon agrees with Hale that women''s communication abilities can often override the need for force, making the issue of physical size irrelevant.
"There are times when a female police officer can potentially tone down a heated argument between two males-historically men concede a certain extent to a woman."
In using their typically female skills to negotiate hostile situations, women officers also draw on more male-associated skills-assertive language and defensive tactics-but only as needed.
And if talking it out doesn''t work, Hale is prepared to use her weapons.
"I''m not a match for a big guy physically," Hale says. "That''s what all my tools are for."
Gal With a Gun
Seaside Field Training Officer Judy Stradan prefers the constant action her city provides over sleepier Pacific Grove. After switching careers and entering the police academy at age 32, Stradan was impatient to get to the action. She chose an assignment that guarantees her the opportunity to follow through her cases and deal with serious crime.
After 12 years of showing horses for celebrity owners, and a stint working as a dental assistant, Stradan, a bubbly blonde with a love of adrenaline, informed her mom she was going to switch jobs.
"I had the confidence to do it," she says. "I thought my mom would flip out but she was like, ''Oh honey, I can see you doing that.''"
She''s advanced quickly in her five years with the Seaside PD, receiving awards and promotions. Stradan found the structure of policing an adjustment process, although she quickly adapted.
"Santa Rosa Training Center was a high-stress academy-very militaristic," she says. "It was a little intimidating but I''m very athletic. During training, I didn''t have to do pushups on my knees like the other women. "
While performing well on these physical aspects and riding motorcycles in her free time, Stradan maintains her ladylike qualities, down to her pearl earrings.
"I can be female and be a good cop. I don''t have to compete with the men to prove I''m stronger than a man," she says.
Ironically, Stradan is perhaps more aggressive in some situations than her male counterparts. She says that because of her size-five foot five and 120 pounds-she''s quicker to use her baton or pepper spray than male cops.
"The guys crack up," she says. "They say, ''Wow Judy, you were right on it.'' A lot of times I''ll do it quicker than them. I''m not going to be lax and wait until the suspect is a little closer."
Stradan''s proudest of a sting operation she orchestrated to catch a man accused of molesting kids for 10 years. Using her ability to bond with children, she re-examined years of leads and secured six life sentences for the perpetrator.
"It was a guy who would befriend single mothers, then take their kids to the park, then molest them," she says. "I did a sting phone call where he admitted, ''I do it because I like it.''"
"I like the real crime," says Stradan, whose boyfriend is a sergeant. "I like to stay busy."
Stradan is aware of the attitude some male cops have towards female officers.
"I don''t live with blinders on," she says. "I bet if you took most male cops aside they would say, ''No, women shouldn''t be in law enforcement,'' if they thought no one is listening. But I don''t care. I think you have to let those things roll off your back."
The job supplies plentiful surprises. For example, Stradan finds that some of her frequent arrestees are overjoyed when they run into her at the grocery store.
"It''s not uncommon for me to arrest someone 10 times, and then run into them off-duty, and they are all happy to see me," she laughs. "There''s so much humor in this job. There''s a lot of sadness too, but you keep it all in perspective."
The Cop''s a Mom
Sergeant Vicki Gray, 42, of the Salinas PD, deals with the heady stream of violence and resulting tragedies in her city with a caring but detached manner. She has spent the past 16 years balancing very physically demanding police work with the added challenge of maintaining a marriage and raising two kids. She''s one of eight women in a department with 164 male officers.
Gray sees women''s interpersonal skills as highly effective in avoiding violent encounters. She believes that being female holds an advantage in gaining trust.
"I think good talkers make good interviewers," she says. "And sometimes women spend more time talking to people than men do. Women tend to be very good communicators and tend to defuse situations. There are a lot less ''use of force'' complaints on women."
But, Gray says, women cops must occasionally resort to physical force.
"None of us like to use it-but certain situations warrant it," she says.
Gray learned the hard way to always call for backup on "hot calls," like shootings, domestic violence and chases, of which there are plenty in Salinas.
"Early on in my career I chased a guy who was speeding, had thrown a beer bottle out the window, and was failing to yield to me," she remembers. "I followed him into his house before calling for backup, and found a house full of what appeared to be gang members. I was wrestling him on the bed and trying to describe the address on the radio at the same time. It turned out to be a safe house for Nuestra Familia."
As Gray talks, her police radio announces shots heard in the area.
"I learned not to get caught up in the adrenaline of the moment," she says.
Gray was the first female officer in Salinas PD history to work through a pregnancy. "I went on light duty at six months," she says.
Gray believes the physical requirements of police officers, currently the same for men and women, should remain the same regardless of gender.
"I don''t think they need to lower the bar for women. I did the wall when I was pregnant," she says. "Just to show someone how. It''s all about technique."
For Gray, the hardest part of police work is the hours away from her kids.
"I tell women when they start that the biggest challenge for a woman is having a family and doing shift work 24-7," she says. "Last week I missed my daughter''s graduation."
Gray''s husband is a police officer as well. Sometimes both of them work the graveyard shift.
"It''s not easy to find a baby-sitter from 8:30pm to 2:30am," she says.
Wendy Lundgren of Monterey found the toll of wild schedules too hard on her marriage, which ended in divorce.
"We never saw each other," she says.
Capt. Kennedy of PGPD sees the burden of juggling work while caring for family falling mainly on the female officers.
"Typically, men here don''t have to think about anything besides their career," Kennedy says. "This is a secondary career for some women. [Some] leave after they have a baby."
"It''s hard to work a 12-hour shift and come home to kids and husband," agrees Officer Hale, a widow and a grandmother. "No one cooks for you."
Honey, I''m on Patrol
Officer Vicky Burnett, 44, faced multiple barriers when she became the first woman to enter the Violence Suppression Unit of the Salinas Police Department in 1998.
"I''m from the age where people think that it''s a good thing for women to stay at home," says Burnett. "But if you''re able to do the job, you''re pretty well respected."
Switching careers-she was a postal employee-she chose the most typically male of assignments in an already typically male profession. As a Gang Intelligence Officer, she collects information and testifies in court. "A gang affiliation can add two to 10 years to a sentence," she says. Burnett is well aware of the dangers that come from snitching out gangs.
"I''m on a few hit lists," she says. "But everything [you do in life] is dangerous. It worries me sometimes, but I get such gratification from identifying those who prey on innocent people."
Burnett finds that some men are less likely to be violent with her because of the potential embarrassment from being subdued by a female. On the other side, men don''t have to prove their strength to her.
"The advantages to being female are that men are less likely to be confrontational because they don''t have this macho thing to prove to you."
Lieutenant Ernie Bentley, who recruited Burnett, says that 15 years ago the law enforcement environment became more accepting of women.
"Women who work with this department perform extremely well," he says. "At or above what male officers do."
But Burnett says that this kind of work is only a match for certain types of gals.
"It takes a very determined woman to just get through the academy alone," says Burnett. "It takes more determination than necessarily body strength. It''s an ''I''m-not-going-to-quit'' attitude."
According to the "Equality Denied" study, women are much less likely to be named in "a citizen complaint, sustained allegation, or civil lawsuit for excessive use of force." With such implied monetary advantages in recruiting women, and given the myriad of skills women bring to their jobs as police officers, the Feminist Majority Foundation insists women must be represented more equally in police employment.
But the women who choose this work say the sweeping statements tell only part of the story.
"You can say the stereotypes," Stradan says. "But I know some women who are horrible and not compassionate and ask all the wrong questions. I think it all depends on the individual and their strengths."