Females on the force

September 12, 2004|by PEPPER BALLARD

WASHINGTON COUNTY - It's a common question asked of little girls, but in the 1950s, when Nancy Reamy's father asked her what she wanted to be when she grew up, she didn't give a common answer.

Reamy wanted to be a "policeman." And although her father told her that "little girls aren't policemen," the now 63-year-old woman said she was undaunted.

In 1977, Reamy, a former Washington County Sheriff's Department deputy, and Hagerstown Police Department Lt. Margaret Kline became the first women to graduate from the Western Maryland Police Academy.


Nearly 30 years later, women make up 5 percent of the county police force, 13 percent of the city force and 2 percent of the Maryland State Police Hagerstown barracks' force.

That was then

In the 1977 Western Maryland Police Academy photograph hanging in the academy classroom, only Kline's eyes, which were lifted slightly over an officer's hat standing in front of her, can be seen.

"I was a 21-year-old girl and even coming on in the department, I was naive," said Kline, who now is the director of training and the academy. "Here I am, approaching 49, and my life experiences have changed the way I see things."

As a cadet in 1974, she wore a skirt and "little black shoes," an outfit that separated her from the older men dominating police headquarters, who she said made her feel like she was their daughter.

"When you come into the job, you're readily not accepted," Kline said of police work.

Reamy remembers that acceptance coming slowly.

An interview with the chief of city police in the 1970s stopped her plans to join that department. The chief told Reamy that the department had a height requirement of 5 feet 7 inches, a cut the former U.S. Marine didn't make.

"I said, 'Sir, you're not gonna get too many women who are 5 (feet) 7 (inches) and interested in police work,'" she said.

While Reamy soon found her niche at the Sheriff's Department, Kline, who stood 5 feet 7 inches, "proved herself worthy of the calling, so to speak" with the city police, retired Capt. Donald Hamberger said.

Hamberger, 72, said there was a lot of discussion at the department about whether women could handle the "dirty" work of a "policeman" before Kline entered the cadet program.

He said, "Back in the stone age, we thought 'Well, I'll have to take care of them' or something."

Hamberger said that after he asked that male officers tone down their language because women were present, their attitudes changed: "They thought a little bit more about how they spoke and it carried over into the streets."

Kline remembers some chivalry on the streets, not just from her co-workers, but from criminals, too.

While a rookie, Kline, who had at that point donned the full uniform - complete with Marines dress shoes, slacks and a hat - broke up a bar fight with her field training officer. When they brought the brawlers back to headquarters, she took off her hat, revealing her pinned-up dark hair.

One of the men, while being booked, realized Kline was a woman and apologized for his behavior.

This is now

By 1995, Sheriff's Department Deputy First Class Annette Sprecher said such apologies were rare.

As a deputy at the Washington County Courthouse in December 2001, Sprecher's head was banged against the floor, she was punched in the face, bitten on the fingers and sprayed in the eyes with her own pepper spray while fighting and chasing a prisoner who had fled into the courthouse elevator, then into a nearby alley.

"If you're a criminal, I don't think they care if you're male or female," she said.

Male officers don't change the way they act because there are female officers on the force, women interviewed for this story said.

"I was an equal," said Deputy 1st Class Val Buskirk, remembering her first days as a deputy.

Buskirk and Deputy Christina McAllister said they tried to level the playing field while in the police academy. Both Buskirk, who graduated in 1997, and McAllister, who graduated this year, said that they ignored physical training requirements for women and instead met the training requirements for men.

Now, the field is so level that female officers interviewed for this story agree that there only are slight differences between how women enforce the law versus how men enforce it.

"We have to choose our weapons carefully," City Police Detective Patricia Moulton said. "Our mouths are probably our best weapons."

Kline agreed, saying that there is a perception that women "want to talk it out, while men want to duke it out."

When Kline joined the force, she was issued a "black jack," a weapon she said she hardly used.

"It made a great door knocker," she said.

Whether or not women choose to be physically aggressive, women never can be timid in the presence of criminals, Kline said.

"You show you're timid and they've won," she said.

'No fear of being me'

Distinguishing appearances between male and female officers is not a top priority for most female officers interviewed for this story.

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