I had the honor to meet Sergeant Bernadette Smith at the YWCA Women’s Leadership Conference in Tucson. We had written back and forth, as she had contacted me via this website after discovering No Excuses in a local bookstore. Once I met her in person I knew she was someone you had to meet. She is the epitome of “Power-To” utilized gracefully in a very male-centric profession. As you’ll see she also has a keen sense of humor about it.
Here is her inspiring story for this week’s “She’s Doing It.”
“I grew up in the Los Angeles area, met my husband in high school and eloped to Las Vegas when we were eighteen years old. We have been married 33 years now and have four grown children. I worked part and full time as a 911 Dispatcher in Los Angeles while our children were young.
In 1996, we moved to a state outside of California. I was hired again as a 911 Dispatcher in the county we resided in but I wanted to fulfill my dream of becoming a sworn law enforcement officer. I was 36 years old and realized if I was going to be a police officer, I had better do it soon.
I tested for Deputy Sheriff for the first time, but did not pass the physical agility. I was overweight. I worked out, ran, and lost 60 lbs in the next 11 months! Once I got into shape, I tested again, passed and was sworn in as a Deputy Sheriff.
I completed POST (Peace Officer Standards Training) and was assigned to the jail division for three years. I rotated to the patrol division and passed the field training program. I worked patrol for five years. In 2006 after obtaining my intermediate and advanced POST certificates, I tested for Sergeant. I was successful and was promoted and assigned to the jail division for the next three years. I rotated again out to patrol, supervising patrol deputies in the field in 2010.
We have quarterly leadership meetings at our Sheriff’s office and I do notice that there are 18 men and ME. Initially it was daunting but today I know that the skills that women bring to law enforcement are vital to the success of an agency. Planning, organizing, delegating, communicating, writing and sound decision making are essential and equal to defense tactics and firearms proficiency.
Sure, as a new deputy assigned to patrol I was apprehensive about my abilities. Will I be able to perform my duties to protect myself from harm? My life and the lives of my partners depend on it. What would the first test of my skills be like?
I was speaking to a local known criminal at a park. I checked with dispatch for warrants on this subject. He did have an outstanding warrant. I told him he was going to be arrested. The signs of fight or flight were evident, the test was upon me. The suspect ran and he quickly he gained ground ahead of me. I ran back to my patrol vehicle to begin looking for him. He turned the corner and disappeared.
I saw an elderly man sweeping his driveway and asked him if he had seen a balding man with a white tee shirt and jeans on. He said yes and pointed to a yellow house that the suspect had run to.
I parked near that yellow house and recognized another local criminal watering his grass in the front yard. I yelled to him “If Frank (not his real name) is hiding in your house, you are going to jail too!” He immediately turned around and yelled “Get out of here, I am not going to jail!.”
I saw that “Frank” had run out the back door and jumped the back fence. I drove to that street behind that house and saw him running away. I drove quickly to him, put the car into park and ran as fast as I could. I got behind him, pushed him and he fell full force onto the concrete. He went to jail.
Days later we were in court on this case and the judge asked “Frank” what happened. “Frank” explained about the chase. The judge asked him “How old are you?” He replied 24 years old. The judge said “You should be ashamed of yourself, a 42 year old woman ran you down on the street.”
In this incident and more, I’ve learned that I could perform the duties of my position and I could use MY strengths. I could use other tools, like Gloria’s book No Excuses and utilize my strengths to accomplish my goals. While I have my challenges, the rewards of my career outweigh those challenges by far.
My future goals include continuing to promote within my agency and when I retire, I wish to live in Central America. I traveled there three years ago alone to attend language school to improve my Spanish speaking skills. My goal is to open a Women’s social service agency and educate women on the cycle of domestic violence; find resources to assist them in removing themselves from hopeless and dangerous situations. I would become their advocate.
I enjoy my work. It is never the same each day and it challenges me. I obtain a great deal of satisfaction knowing that I assisted people on the worst day of their lives by using my strengths. I know I make a difference.” ~ Sergeant Bernadette Smith