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Jefferson County's two female sheriff's deputies talk shop

Cpl. Tracy Harrison and Deputy Phoebe Leber share what it's like to be a woman in a male-dominated occupation

March 06, 2012|By RICHARD F. BELISLE | richardb@herald-mail.com
  • Jefferson County Sheriff's Deputy Phoebe Leber, left, and Cpl. Tracy Harrison talked recently about what is it like to be a woman in a male-dominated occupation.
By Ric Dugan, Staff Photographer

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. — Jefferson County’s two female sheriff’s deputies came to their careers from different paths.

Cpl. Tracy Harrison got into law enforcement following an eight-year stint in the U.S. Marines, while Deputy Phoebe Leber is following family tradition.

Harrison, 35, who has been on the force for eight years, is one of three deputies in the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department’s detective division. While she has investigated all kinds of criminal activity, her current responsibilities mostly deal with drug investigations.

Leber, 25, the department’s newest officer, was sworn in Monday. She will be a patrol officer, Sheriff Bobby Shirley said.

Leber came to Jefferson County after three years as a police officer in Hamilton County, Ohio. The agency covers Cincinnati and more than 40 other municipalities, she said.

Leber’s duties included drug investigations, drunken-driving cases, domestic violence incidents, pursuits, search and seizures, and serving warrants.

It was her first job in law enforcement.

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Leber grew up in Potter County, Pa. Her father, Jeffrey Leber, was that county’s district attorney for 23 years.

“I grew up around the police,” she said. “My father raised me to know what a police officer is and should be. He inspired me. I never wanted to be anything else.”

Leber told the Jefferson County Commission last week, when she was introduced by Shirley, that she moved to the area to be closer to family.

More than 120 people applied for the position that went to Leber, Shirley said.

Leber is required to have 800 hours of training at the West Virginia State Police Academy in Institute, W.Va.

“I’m hoping her experience will transfer so that she only has to take a refresher course and learn West Virginia law,” Shirley said. “The staff at the state police academy will decide how much and what training she will need.”

He said Leber also will ride with a senior deputy for field training until she’s ready to go out on her own.

Leber is being fitted for her uniform this week, while Harrison wears street clothes on the job.

Being a woman in a male-dominated occupation brings its own set of circumstances, Harrison said.

“You have to prove yourself. The men are apprehensive at first,” she said. “In the beginning, senior offices didn’t want to serve warrants with me. They’d wait until the shift changed for another officer. It’s no longer an issue.”

“The hardest thing in this line of work (for a woman) is that you’re watched more closely,” Leber said.
Leber said male officers don’t pay as much attention to women on the force as they do to each other, on the job or socially.

“You always have to be careful how you joke around,” she said. “It’s like being in a fishbowl.”

Harrison and Leber, who both are single, said they avoid dating on the job.

“It can cause problems,” Harrison said. “I just date Marines.”

Her boyfriend is a Marine.

Leber and Harrison said they have taken men down in the line of duty. It’s often a matter of tactics and brain power over strength, they said.

“We try to handle them verbally, not physically,” Leber said. “It’s verbal judo. It’s how you talk to people.”

“Some men don’t want to listen to us because we’re women,” Harrison said. “And there are some cultures that view women as being inferior."

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