A cop with real class

June 29, 2003|by CANDICE BOSELY

In one year, kindergarten teacher Mary Margaret Mickey had one student suspended for battering a school employee, another suspended for bringing a knife to school and a third suspended for threatening to bring a gun to school to shoot a teacher.

Mickey is now ready for the tough stuff: patrolling the quiet streets of Shepherdstown.

Mickey is heading to the West Virginia State Police Academy in Charleston later this month. After 15 weeks of training, she will leave as a certified officer and join the Shepherdstown Police Department on a part-time basis.

She's ready for the jokes asking if she plans to make bad guys stand in a corner. No, she will not be taking her gun to school and, yes, she has seen the movie "Kindergarten Cop."


Being a teacher is and will remain Mickey's career, she said, but becoming a police officer has been a dream for years.

Because of her work with children, Mickey, 33, said it is possible she could specialize in neglect, abuse or sexual assault cases that involve minors.

Having a police officer in the school system will offer its own advantages, she said.

"Tell me it wouldn't be a deterrent," she said.

Proving to children that police officers are trustworthy also is important, she said.

A kindergarten teacher at Blue Ridge Elementary in Harpers Ferry, W.Va., for the past nine years, Mickey said the students are her passion.

"They come in and they have these wide eyes," she said. "They're like sponges. Everything is a learning experience."

While teaching, a passion for police work was not ignored. Mickey has been a member of the Jefferson County sheriff's reserve unit since it was formed in 1993 and is currently the leader of the group, ranked a lieutenant.

Members of the reserve unit cannot carry a gun, so Mickey said she will probably have to leave the group. Pepper-spray is the weapon of choice for deputy reserves. She'll carry a .40-caliber handgun as a police officer.

Passing the tests

Before going to the academy, Mickey had to pass a physical fitness test which required her to do 27 push-ups in a minute and 29 sit-ups in a minute, sit and reach 1 1/2 inches past her feet and run a mile and a half in 14 minutes and 52 seconds or less.

The sit-and-reach exercise was more difficult than it sounds, Mickey said, especially since she has long legs.

She also had to undergo a background test, a lie detector test and a psychological exam. She sometimes jokes with her teaching colleagues that she's proven to be sane.

Lastly, Mickey needed permission from the Jefferson County Board of Education to take an unpaid leave of absence, since attending the academy will force her to miss about two months of school. The academy concludes Oct. 17.

During a recent Board of Education meeting, board member Delores Milstead voted against the leave "with regret," she said, saying Mickey should focus on her students.

Other board members, however, pointed out that teachers who are members of the Legislature miss more days, and that attending the academy will be a chance for Mickey to continue her education.

Mickey's leave was approved by a 3-1 vote.

When she finishes the academy, Mickey will have obtained nearly 20 credit hours toward a criminal justice degree. She said she hopes to finish the degree at Shepherd College. She already holds a master's degree.

Altogether, Mickey estimated she will spend around $2,500 of her own money to attend the academy - costs that range from tuition to the regulation gray sweat pants and plain black shorts that are required.

Shepherdstown will pay for her police uniform. They're still wrangling over who will buy her shoes, Mickey said.

How Mickey will react when she first puts on that uniform - when she is in need and answering calls - will most likely be based more on instinct than anything, she said.

"If you think about it," she said, shaking her head, "you might put too much thought into it."

Tenuous situations

Tenuous situations have arisen in the past.

While working security as a reserve deputy several years ago at the county fair, Mickey said, two men were on the verge of fighting and one had removed his shirt. The first to arrive, Mickey got between the men, who towered over her, and diffused the hostility. She told them if they wanted to fight to do it somewhere outside the presence of families.

On another occasion, she was sent to serve divorce papers on a man. She was warned beforehand he might be hostile. She was told to park nearby and walk because if he saw her car, he would not answer the door.

Sending "estrogen" to a man already unhappy with at least one woman may not have been the wisest idea, Mickey said, but she went. He answered his door, she pushed the papers forward and told him he'd been served.

Moments later, he came back out of his house. Later, she realized he could have been carrying a gun and she could have been injured, or worse.

Defensive training is one thing she is especially looking forward to learning at the academy.

One skill she possesses is the ability to mediate.

Sitting on her home's screened-in porch, Mickey looked down to find her large black dog, Onyx, and a sleek black cat named Willie Worm staring at each other, a bit close.

She put a hand on each.

"We all have to get along," she said.

It was a statement, not a request.

Willie Worm sauntered away and Onyx put his head back down, appeased.

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