After we received our academy study binders, Sgt. Dickens reviewed the class rules. We would be spending eight hours a day in the classroom. Everything we learned throughout the week would be covered in a test on Monday mornings. We were expected to get a seventy percent or higher. If not, we would be given one retake. If we did not pass the retake with a seventy percent, we would be sent home immediately.
We were also expected to pass the POPAT (Peace Officer Physical Aptitude Test):
A 99-yard obstacle course
Body drag – Lift and drag a 165 lb. life-like dummy 32 feet
Chain link fence – Run 5 yards, go over the fence, and run an additional 25 yards
Solid fence climb – Run 5 yards, go over solid fence, and run an additional 25 yards
The nightmare six-foot fence my daughter taunted me with was now on the table.
Each event was timed and scored with higher points given for shorter times. The minimum passing score was 384. Men and women are scored equally. Age doesn’t matter. If we scored a 383, we were going home. I preferred the Cooper Test.
Oh, we had to pass the Cooper Test too.
More rules. There would be no fraternizing with the college students or among the cadets. If caught, we would be sent home. We would tell the truth at all times; if we were caught in any lie, we would be sent home. We would attend class Monday through Friday. If we missed more than two days due to illness, we would be sent home. There were so many “You will be sent home rules” it was hard to remember them all.
Our dorm room would remain spotless for weekly inspections. All homework would be turned in on time. Our notebooks would be inspected weekly. We would be given daily uniform inspections. We were to be outside on the classroom deck at 0745 each morning inspection ready.
Monday, Wednesday, and Friday we would meet in the gym at 0530 hours for physical training (PT). On Tuesday and Thursday we would meet at the same time for defensive tactics (DT). These classes would last an hour and a half, giving us 45 minutes to eat breakfast, change into our uniform of the day, and arrive for inspection on the deck. Infractions would be severally punished.
Punishment hill runs (whatever that was) would take place after class at 1700 hours daily. We were not to leave campus unless we had written permission. There was an absolute ban on cell phones during the day.
After this set of rules and instructions were yelled out, we marched to the gym. It was time to learn a few military formations and some of the terminology. Sgt. Dickens continued to yell and we eventually got it. It was hot in the gym. One hundred and fifty degrees was what it felt like. I’m pretty sure we were dying.
Eventually the first cadet dropped. He passed out in a dead faint. I could see the look of satisfaction on Sgt. Dickens’ face. The staff called an ambulance and we got a break. There were two water fountains and we took turns getting water and wetting our heads and necks. No one spoke; we were all being watched closely. The “lucky” cadet was taken to the hospital fifteen minutes later.
More orders were yelled out—about-face, parade rest, attention, forward march, etc. The sergeant and his helpers synchronized their yelling. I wasn’t sure what was up and what was down. My head spun. We were told not to lock our knees or we would be visiting the emergency room. I tried locking my knees but it didn’t work; I just couldn’t pass out.
After all this, it was time for our first inspection. We lined up by squad. This would be our formation throughout the academy. Both sergeants and their helpers (a.k.a. our squad advisors) began going person to person and finding something wrong. My hair was barely staying in place and I could feel it touching the back of my neck.
I sensed someone behind me and then the back of my hair was tugged, hard.
A female voice said, “Sgt. Dickens, it appears we have a bird’s nest in squad five.” It was yelled into my ear.
I couldn’t help it, I giggled. A woman pulled my hair and compared it to a bird’s nest. I suffered from delirium. What could possibly be funnier?
Sgt. Dickens was in my face before I could choke back more laughter.
“Cadet, are you laughing? Do you find this funny? Give me twenty push-ups. As a matter of fact, I want the entire class to give me twenty push-ups. Quarter right turn, assume push-up position. Begin.”
What the hell was a quarter right turn? Thankfully, I was getting good at mimicking the cadets around me. I can’t believe the police ad at the drugstore had not stated, “Military training required.”
We were so tired. Someone stopped doing push-ups at the count of fourteen and we had to start again. At least it wasn’t me. The inspection continued and so did the punishments. When finished, we had done more than one hundred push-ups. I couldn’t feel my quivering arms.
After inspection, we were shown the location of our dorms at the eastern end of the campus. We didn’t get a chance to stop and admire our dingy living quarters. They immediately marched us to the cafeteria. Not a word was spoken. We huddled together miserably at whatever empty seat we came to. The sergeants and advisors sat at their own table. It was 1800 hours. We had only been at it for five hours. This sucked.
I tried to eat. I could barely lift my fork to my mouth. I ate very little. After about twenty minutes, we resumed our formation outside. We ran like hell—I mean double timed it—back to the dorms. I was thankful I hadn’t eaten much. We were finally released for the day and told to be at the gym at 0530 hours the following morning.
Getting our room assignments, unpacking, and arranging the shower schedules were done next. There were only four female cadets. Our dorm was tiny with two sets of bunk beds. We decided to rotate every two weeks so we would each have a turn on the top bunk. There was only one small bathroom for the four of us.
After getting situated, the woman who sat by me in the classroom left the room with her cell phone in hand. She came back an hour later and said she was going home. She wasn’t crying or acting anything but determined. She left. I never heard from her again.
Have I mentioned how much this sucks?
Over the next three weeks, Stacy and I got our first experience at what being a police officer was like. The records clerk issued us wallet police badges to take to the academy and we were also issued our batons, handcuffs, and firearms.
Guns, this was one thing I hadn’t thought about. I had never shot a gun before. It looked huge. It was a .40 caliber Glock 35. I was told it had an extra-long barrel and was great for target shooting.
P-R-O-B-L-E-M! I could barely wrap my hand around the grip.
Sgt. Spears took us to the range for shooting instruction. I fired it for the first time and screamed like a baby when it practically jumped out of my hands. Sgt. Spears looked like he wanted to scream too. He was patient but I pushed him to the limit. His only encouragement was telling me if I made it far enough, the academy would straighten out my problems.
Of course, Stacy did an excellent job.
Thursday evening, before I left for the academy, I received a call from Sgt. Spears. He went straight to the point. The town council decided to terminate the two police positions Stacy and I had. He told me to return my equipment first thing the following morning.
I called Stacy and we cried. My devastation was complete and I really felt sorry for her. It seemed odd that we would be the first female police officers in town and they removed our positions. Very odd. Add in the council was one hundred percent Mormon men and reading the writing on the wall wasn’t difficult.
Tim was out of town and I drowned my sorrow in wine.
I woke up the next morning with a headache and a great deal of anger. I stopped at the local convenience store to fill my car with gas before heading to the department. A woman I barely knew walked up to me. I was aware her husband sat on the town council.
“This is wrong,” she said. “We’ve needed a female at the police department for a long time. I raised my children and once they left home, I went back to school to become a teacher. You’ve raised your children too and deserve a chance. I’m sorry.”
Her anger fueled mine even more. The town’s elite thought they could stomp on my dream. For the first time in my life I truly understood what it meant to be a woman and not have the same rights as a man. This was 2006.
Stacy and Sgt. Spears waited for me at the police department. I told them about my conversation with the councilman’s wife.
“The chief isn’t happy about what’s happened. He doesn’t like being told who he can and cannot hire.” Sgt. Spears rubbed his palm over his shortly cropped hair. “We discussed a solution last night. We have a records clerk position open. It pays 22k a year starting salary. The chief is willing to hire one of you and send you through the academy as a records clerk. If you make it through, he thinks he can talk the council into hiring you for a full-time position.” His eyes landed on Stacy and all my hopes and dreams were further dashed.
She shook her head. “No, I’m sorry, I can’t do it. I need the money to send for my son’s care. It’s the deal my ex-husband and I made.” She looked at me.
Sgt. Spears looked at me. 22k was 15k less that the starting salary of a police officer.
“I’m in.” This wasn’t about the money. It was about a dream. I would not give in to religious views that said women could not have the same opportunities as men. It’s not who I was or would ever be. My mother was the first woman to graduate from Columbus Tech with a degree in electronics. She wouldn’t take no for an answer and neither would I. Equal pay be damned.
The night before I left for the academy was difficult. The nerves I hadn’t suffered set in and I was too wound up to sleep. I worried about my husband and my horses. I worried I would look like a fool and everyone would laugh at the old, incompetent woman with stupid dreams.
I left Small Town first thing in the morning. I stayed in a hotel in Phoenix that night and was expected to be at the academy at 1300 hours the following afternoon. My hair had to be up and off my collar. I wore the required white dress shirt with black tie, black pants, and black shoes. I carried my duty belt minus the gun and gear. I left my suitcases in the police-issued unmarked vehicle and went inside. There were about thirty people standing around dressed like me. Only three other women.
Everything was going great until a military drill sergeant arrived with several uniformed helpers. The sergeant was short, squat, and had a thundering voice.
“What are you doing?” He bellowed. “Get in formation NOW, NOW, NOW!”
The helpers yelled too and made everything even more confusing. We began lining up and were told to count off. The first five people got it right but number six missed his turn.
“What the hell is your problem? Did you learn to count in kindergarten? Start over and this time, get it right,” the sergeant’s voice blared.
We made it to twenty-two before the woman beside me blew it. Her eyes were huge and I thought she would cry. After more yelling, we started over. This time we got it right. There were thirty-five of us.
We marched outside. The weather was expected to be 115 degrees that day. It felt like 120. Our stiff white shirts and ties were drenched with sweat within five minutes. About half the cadets didn’t bring their duty belts with them and the rest of us stood at attention in the hot sun while they were given five minutes to run to their vehicles and retrieve the required equipment.
We were placed in two lines by numbers and marched around campus. PAFRA is located on a Southern Arizona college campus. Academic students would not arrive for another two weeks. We would have the place to ourselves for now. We ran “double time” in the heat while the library, gym, and cafeteria were pointed out. We ended about ten minutes later at the far west end of campus.
Our classroom was stadium style. There were six rows and I was the third person in the fifth row. The woman who messed up the count sat next to me with a male cadet first in our row. We were squad five with seven cadets in our squad.
The staff gave us one minute to get a drink of water from a single water fountain. No one did more than wet their lips. I was overheated, drenched in sweat, and most likely dying from heat stroke.
My heart rate was barely under control, when the back door at the top corner of the classroom flew open. Our official class sergeant stormed in and kicked a metal garbage can down the classroom stairs. I thought the other guy was the sergeant but soon discovered my error. The new sergeant made the other look like a pansy.
“On your feet. I’m Sgt. Dickens and you will stand when I enter a room. You will address me as sir.” He had our attention. “Don’t eyeball me. You will look through me and not at me. Do you understand?”
“Yes, sir.” It came out weak. I wondered what the hell he meant; through me, not at me? I was about to learn.
“What did you say? Is anyone here capable of saying ‘Yes, sir’? Or maybe you don’t understand. Do you understand?”
“YES, SIR.” We were louder this time.
He wasn’t impressed and rolled his eyes. “If you have military experience I want you front and center immediately.” About ten guys started for the front of the room. “I didn’t tell you to walk. For the love of God, get down here now.” Their pace picked up.
Squad leaders were appointed and all sent back to their desks. Some seat shuffling went on as the squad leaders took the far right seats in each row. We were in luck; our guy already had the correct seat. Next we were told to come forward when our names were called and we were given a nameplate on yellow cardstock paper along with two large, white, paper-filled binders.
Before my name was called, a young man, dressed like us, looked into the room. One of the sergeant’s helpers, the only female, noticed him. “Who are you?” she demanded.
“Mike Todd,” he answered.
“And what are you doing here, Mike Todd?”
“I’m supposed to be in this class.”
“What time were you to be here?” she questioned.
“What time is it?”
Mike looked at his watch and said, “1342 hours.”
“And you think you can come in late? Does this look like kindergarten? Sgt. Dickens, this fine young man is late.”
Sgt. Dickens walked over to Mike and got in his face. “Are you eyeballing me, Mr. Todd?”
“You were eyeballing me and now you’re a liar as well as late. You have no business being here. Get out. Go back and inform your department that you were late. See how they like it. Now get the hell out of my classroom.”
Mike left. We never saw him again.
I learned two very important rules—don’t be late and double time means run like hell.
I also realized I had been thrown into the Hollywood set for the remake of Full Metal Jacket. I just wondered who would end up being our Pvt. Pyle and hoped it wasn’t me.
We all have bad days on the job.
My most recent bad day started with a fender bender on a muddy road. Well, actually, it started when I said I would work patrol for another officer so he could take his wife to a medical appointment. It got worse when a passing car declined to slow down while passing my accident scene, and proceeded to decorate my clean uniform with mud.
As this type of day tends to go, mine went downhill from there. I never got a chance to change my uniform, so I did the best I could throughout the day to flake the mud off as it dried.
My last call of the day had me back standing along the side of the road interviewing a victim of alleged criminal damage. The damage appeared to have been the result of a rock flying up from a passing car and placing a nice hole in his windshield. The “victim,” though, didn’t seem to appreciate me using my detective skills to his disadvantage and I quickly realized his day was going about as well as mine.
While I was writing down the required information for my report, several birds swept down and flew very close to where we were standing. One small young bird landed on the toe of my muddy boot and stayed.
I looked down. The man looked down. The bird looked up. After the bird was satisfied that it had a safe perch, it continued to look around at the scenery and enjoy a short rest. As quiet and steadily as I could, I reached for my cell phone and snapped a picture.
The bird looked up one more time and then flew away.
After the bird left, the man decided he didn’t want to file a report after all. He agreed with my interpretation of events. He asked me if I would forward the picture of the bird to his cell phone.
As I walked away, I decided some days are just special. And this was one of those days!
It happened on Tuesday morning. The call came in and essentially I was IN. I would begin the police academy on August 13. I was told there was a lot to do and they wanted to see me later that same afternoon.
I arrived at the police department and sat down next to Miss Ponytail. I found out her name was Stacy and she was from Montana. She told me she had always wanted to be a police officer and had seen the ad online. Mo was nowhere in sight and I was pretty sure it was not good news for him.
Sgt. Spears asked us both to step into his office. He handed us each an academy letter laying out the specifics of what to expect and what we needed. He said we would be issued a check for our uniform allowance upon leaving today and from that we would be expected to purchase the required items. We would also be given identification cards from the department’s records clerk. We would receive our first paycheck the following Monday and would be expected to be at the police department at 0800 Monday through Friday until we left for PAFRA.
Sgt. Spears explained Small Town Police Department (STPD) was in need of female officers and we would be the first if we succeeded at the academy. I had lived here for two years and never realized there were no female officers. I believe Sgt. Spears was setting his star on Stacy and did not think I would make it. He seemed to be speaking to her and I was only a sidebar. It didn’t matter. Nothing could stop the elation over my dream coming true.
Stacy and I made plans to head to Phoenix for a uniform store the following morning. We needed to do a turnaround trip, so it would make for a long day. Stacy seemed more likeable as we talked on the police department steps and made plans. She was 26 years old and had a 7-year-old son. Her son was living with her ex-husband in Montana while Stacy attended the academy. She told me she was very nervous and heard the academy was difficult.
I had put a lot of pressure on myself about getting to the academy but thought very little about actually being there. I would most likely get nervous a few days before we left. Right now all I could do was smile.
That evening I broke the news to my husband. I made his favorite dinner and waited until we were almost finished eating. “I’m leaving for the police academy on August 12th. It begins August 13th. I’ll be gone for eighteen weeks and live on campus.”
“Is this what you really want?” he asked.
I looked at him, smiled, and said, “Yes.”
“Well, congratulations, I’m sure you’ll do great. What’s this about eighteen weeks away from home?”
I explained I would be living in a dorm and weekends off were at the discretion of the academy staff. I would come home anytime I could.
“That’s a long time. I’ll miss you.”
Have I mentioned how much I love this man?