For all the skills law enforcement officers need, few are more valuable than communication.
“The people you are dealing with are manipulative, drug-seeking and combative and come in mentally ill and high on drugs,” said Lisa Wright, a captain with the Auglaize County Sheriff’s Office. “You have to know how to use your communication skills to work with them.”
Wright said women in law enforcement have to be a social worker, a doctor, a paramedic and counselor to help treat the inmates at a minute’s notice.
Whether it is performing body searches, responding to domestic calls or assisting inmates, women who wear the law enforcement badge are required to be as mentally and physically strong as male officers. Females provide unique skills of communicating with criminals and victims and providing trust during times of crisis.
In dealing with males who have committed crimes, female officers use their choice of words to help calm a situation, said Andrea Geise, a deputy sheriff with the Allen County Sheriff’s Office since November.
“There are guys who are 6-5, 300 pounds, and I can do my best to deescalate the situation with my words because I know physically they could overpower me,” Geise said.
She added, “When we put on the badge, we are doing the same exact job as men, and I don’t think the men look at us any differently. We are all brothers and sisters and pretty much like one of the guys.”
A consistent need
The region doesn’t have an abundance of female police officers. For instance, the Allen County Sheriff’s Office has only three female uniformed officers, along with 15 to 20 female corrections officers. Auglaize County has 10 female officers in its sheriff’s office. The Ottawa Police Department has one woman on patrol.
“Sometimes it’s more comforting for a woman to have a female officer than a male officer to talk to,” said Tammy Griffith-Blunk, that lone female patrol officer in Ottawa, starting 16 1/2 years ago.
She said female officers are expected to do everything male officers do such as making arrests and being trained on how to operate guns.
Jim Seaman, Rhodes State College criminal justice department chair, said there is a growing demand for females needed in law enforcement.
“We are trying to diversify with females and minorities. Females bring a different take to the field and definitely have better communication skills and perfect those skills and are found to use less violence and use of force on calls,” Seaman said.
The college usually averages between two and four females and they are recruited out of the academy. Departments call the school weekly to see if the college has candidates for their offices because there is a large demand for female officers, according to Seaman.
“Our female students get recruited very aggressively and are typically hired before they are done with the academy and that puts the females in the drivers seat where they can take the best offer,” Seaman said.
Andre McConnahea, a lieutenant with the Allen County Sheriff’s Office, traces an increased number of jail inmates to heroin use, leading to other kinds of drugs and crimes.
“Our growing population of inmates in our jail are females,” McConnahea said, “and our day-to-day inmate population has exploded, where we are hovering around 300 inmates, and a large portion of that is that the female population has almost doubled.”
Callie Basinger, 28, was inspired to seek a career in law enforcement by her father, Paul, who served on the Allen County Sheriff’s Office for 28 years.
“I’ve always been interested in law enforcement, and that there is something different everyday,” said Basinger, who worked her way up to detective with the Allen County Sheriff’s Office.
She attended Rhodes States College, where she received her associate’s degree in criminal justice administration in 2011. She also attended police academy training, where she learned driving maneuverability and how to safely handle and shoot shotguns and handguns. At the very end of the training, she was required to take a state test for physical ability and a written exam. She also took physical classes and learned how to work with juveniles.
She was hired in 2014 as a deputy at the Allen County Sheriff’s Office where she was on road patrol and responded to domestic issues, accidents, business checks and assisted with traffic accidents.
In January 2018, she became a detective. She now handles juvenile cases and all sexual assault cases. She helps interview victims, witnesses and suspects and collects evidence such as sexual assault kits and helps secure evidence such as cell phones where inappropriate behavior is often recorded.
Geise knew from a young age she wanted to work in law enforcement.
“I was 7 years old and my grandpa, Mike Finn, was a Delphos Police Department officer there over 20 years. That inspired me to work in law enforcement,” Geise said.
She recalled sitting in the dispatch room and was amazed at the calls and computers that were a part of law enforcement. She received her associate’s degree in criminal justice at Rhodes State College and graduated in May 2018 and received her Ohio Police Officers Training certificate.
“Female officers bring a different perspective to crimes in a way that male officers can’t,” McConnahea said.
The compassion and patience many women have provides approachability and openness that can assist people offices are helping.
“I think it helps to be a woman in law enforcement because women have a sincere, receptive and caring personality, so it helps when talking to kids and females,” Basinger said.
She said the kids she assists are in difficult situations, such as being abused, sexually assaulted or having a rough home life and causing trouble. She can be a mediator to get them the help that they need.
“If the victim is a female and the perpetrator was a male, sometimes they don’t want to talk to a male officer because it may shut them down. Talking to a female, they may be more open,” Basinger said.
That’s especially true in rape and child abuse cases, Griffith-Blunk said.
“If kids have experienced trauma, they want their mom, so having a law enforcement officer who is female can help them feel safer,” Griffith-Blunk said.
Geise said females in the profession often bring a calmness, understanding and patience to understand the full story.
“Females can read females and tell if something happened, and being a female you can pull them aside and talk to the female,” Geise said.
Beyond their different approaches, female officers can also be more effective in searches. As a deputy, Geise assists with running traffic, pedestrian stops and responding to calls for service.
“On traffic stops, it is easier for females in law enforcement to pat down other females for drugs and needles,” she said.
She added that a female officer can be in more intimate areas without having to worry about allegations, allowing for a more in-depth search. She said needles, knives and razor blades can be hidden in the bra and waistbands, and female officers can help with those searches.
McConnahea said female officers can also assist with female inmates’ urine samples and body searches.
“With an agency our size and the amount of clientele we have, you can’t function effectively without female officers,” McConnahea said.
In Auglaize County, Wright works with jail inmates and has to know how to search inmates and de-escalate situations.
“For our department a female officer is required to pat down a female inmate,” Wright said.
Wright provides training to other officers and attended schooling to learn how to instruct other officers.
“As a woman you are almost in a better position. Any man will be bigger or strong than me, and I am able to use the Taser or pepper spray without questions,” Wright said.
To become certified, women are required to meet all of the same standards as men and go through the college’s police academy, which is 720 mandatory hours of schooling.
“We work on verbal and practical skills and teaching them how to do investigation skills,” Seaman said.
Students are required to take classes in psychology, a special needs population class, and juvenile delinquency class.
A verbal class is also offered to teach students how to deescalate a situation using verbal skills.
“Five years ago we had 50 students in the fall going into criminal justice classes and our academies were always full. Today it is not like that and the number of students who want to go into criminal justice is way down,” Seaman said.
The college’s police academy teaches students skills such as maneuvering a vehicle, firearm shooting and safety, criminal law, alcohol field sobriety and crime intervention to prepare them for their state exam.
Geise said females who work in law enforcement need to be strong mentally and physically.
“It’s not just for yourself, but your coworkers because you have to have everyone’s back out there,” Geise said.
The urge to help in their communities drives most female officers.
“At an early age I wanted to be in law enforcement,” said Griffith-Blunk said, who patrols Ottawa’s streets and attended Owens Community College and received her law enforcement degree in 2003. “Once I got married and had three kids, I thought I would get in law enforcement because I like to help people and to try to make a difference.”
Wright was a single mother who worked her way up since starting as a corrections officer in 2004, after getting her associate’s degree in criminal justice from Rhodes State. She became a lieutenant in 2010 and a captain five years ago.
“I initially thought I would be a lawyer and had four kids,” Wright said. “I’m a single mom and was promoted through the ranks.”
The variety was appealing to Geise, who works second shift in Allen County.
“You never know what to expect,” she said. “You can go to anything as dramatic as a shooting or stabbing to a simple call of a cow in the road, and you have to take every call seriously.”
She’s able to see where other deputies are. She knows she can call for backup if needed.
“We are a family and never alone on the streets, and that is comforting to me,” Geise said.
While there’s a need, it does take the right woman for the job.
“This career is not for everyone,” Griffith-Blunk said. “You have to have patience and be strong minded.”
Reach Jennifer Peryam at 567-242-0362.