By Joy Hampton
The Norman Transcript, Okla.
Norman’s women in blue exude confidence. Perhaps it’s because they survived pepper spray, being tased, and multiple physical and mental challenges to graduate the police academy and earn the right to wear the uniform.
Or perhaps it’s because they’ve learned to balance family life with protecting and serving the community — sometimes at all hours of night and day.
Or maybe it’s because they know defense tactics, self-defense, how to shoot, how to negotiate and that their fellow officers always have their backs.
Maybe it’s all of the above.
Saturday, some of Norman’s brightest and best female officers conducted a Women in Policing Expo at Norman North High School in hopes of finding a few more good women for the next police academy.
“If you really, really want to make a difference, this is the job for you,” Officer Glenda Vassar told potential recruits.
In 2012, Vassar became the first female officer at the Norman Police Department ever selected as officer of the year. In May 2013, she was involved in a shooting and received the Medal of Valor for her conduct that day.
The message was clear — women can be very effective police officers.
While the focus was on women at Saturday’s expo, the event was open to men and women and contained valuable information for anyone interested in becoming a police officer.
Sgt. Kellee Robertson has been with the force since 1999. She spent four years as a patrol officer, has worked with Special Investigations, has been a K9 handler, worked Interstate Interdiction and is currently assigned in the crimes against children unit.
Robertson also spent a decade as a fitness instructor with the police department and talked to potential recruits about fitness, nutrition and defensive tactics.
“I still continue to prepare every day for the next day because you never know what’s going to happen,” Robertson said.
All of the female police officers who spoke on Saturday talked about the training and preparation cadets receive in the academy as well as the support and continued training after graduation.
Robertson explained the difference between defense tactics and self-defense. Self-defense is about survival, and women may employ whatever level of force they choose in those circumstances.
An officer employing defensive tactics, however, must apply appropriate force to match the threat of the situation. The ideal is to control the situation without harming anyone and make an arrest if necessary.
Robertson said dialogue is an officer’s first tool of choice to gain control of a situation. If that fails, there are a number of options including pepper spray, taser, the police baton, physical restraint and firearms that can be used according to the level of threat.
Female officers must meet the same physical standards to hold the job as the male officers — it’s the same job, Robertson said.
But she also showed videos demonstrating how proper training can help level the playing field against bigger and stronger opponents.
Staying physically fit and eating right helps officers be prepared, but exercise also relieves stress and aids sleep.
“It’ s the best job in the world, but it’s also stressful,” Robertson said.
Officer Christi Copeland appreciates the level playing field her firearm gives her. She’s a sharp shooter on the police pistol team. She is also a SWAT negotiator.
Once a music teacher, Copeland said she never visualized herself as a police officer when she was growing up. A graduate of Westmoore High School, she fully expected to be a bandleader some day. She majored in music at the University of Oklahoma and taught music at Norman for nine years.
Copeland said her family was astounded when her passion for law enforcement emerged. She hasn’t looked back, and her skill in shooting is one example of how policing has allowed her to follow personal interests on the job.
“One of the things I love about shooting — it’s simple but it’s not easy,” Copeland said. “I love that challenge.”
Copeland debunked many Hollywood myths about women and guns and women in law enforcement.
“We don’t issue rocket launchers,” she said of one of her favorite police comedies.
Competing on the pistol team is an added plus for her.
“You get paid to shoot a gun,” she said.
All of the women at the expo, including Lt. Stacey Clement, a police recruiter who hosted the day’s event, talked straight to the audience about the benefits and challenges of a career in law enforcement. Each has found paths in their careers to explore special interests from guns to fitness, to bikes to dogs to community and children.
Clement has served on patrol, as a drug recognition expert, as a crisis intervention officer, a field training officer and a member of the bike team.
In 2009, she transferred to the Criminal Investigation Division and served as a field training officer.
All of the women told recruits the academy will prepare cadets for the job. Many jobs require experience, but this one tailors training to the job.
Vassar talked about balancing family and work. She said that female officers are often wives and mothers who multi-task well on the job and in their private lives.
“Badges don’t come in pink or blue. They’re all the same color,” Vassar said. “Women are incredible. We can do anything we set our minds to.”