Richmond County Deputy Michelle Thomas faced a situation last year most female road patrol officers have encountered at one time or the other.
In December, she was called to a suspicious situation. When she arrived, four juvenile males were leaving a house. They took one look at her and decided they could take her.
She ended up arresting all four with some backup.
“They think they can dominate us,” she said. “But they forget we are professionally trained, and we have our radios.”
About 9 percent of Richmond and Aiken County Sheriff’s Office, Aiken Public Safety and Columbia County Sheriff’s Office’s uniformed officers are women. Such small numbers made the Jan. 28 death of Aiken Public Safety Master Cpl. Sandra E. Rogers all the more impactful to area law enforcement officers.
“Losing a woman would be really hard, especially for the men on her shift,” Thomas said.
Rogers, who was fatally wounded after responding to a suspicious vehicle in Eustis Park, was the first female officer killed in the line of duty in South Carolina’s history. In Georgia, eight female officers have been killed in the line of duty, according to Chris Cosgriff, the executive director of the Officer Down Memorial Web site.
Thomas said there is a connection between women officers because there are so few of them. After 10 years in the field, however, she is seeing more women come up the ranks now than ever before.
Richmond County employs 290 officers, 31 of whom are women. Aiken County Sheriff’s Office has 136 officers, 15 of which are women. At Aiken Public Safety, there are 81 sworn officers, seven of whom are women. Columbia County has 100 male officers and six female officers
Richmond County sheriff’s Capt. Scott Gay said there are more women patrol officers now. There are more women in the Aiken County Sheriff’s Office as well, Capt. Troy Elwell said, noting that there is at least one female officer on every shift. Florence McCants from the South Carolina Criminal Justice Academy said the school is seeing more females come through now than ever before.
“They add something special to the department,” Elwell said.
Women also have different issues to deal with on calls.
Investigator Thelma Gilchrist said she was surprised Rogers was shot by a man. The Richmond County investigator has 40 years on the job and said that, usually, women officers have more issues with other women than with men. Men can be talked down more easily by women, she said, but other women want to fight.
Thomas said domestic calls can also be challenging for women officers. Sometimes the women can become distressed when a female officer is arresting the male. They tend to get upset, thinking the officer is hitting on him, Thomas said.
In addition to doing the same duties as their male counterparts, female officers are often counted on to do the less official tasks.
Thomas said the women usually end up planning the parties, collecting money for birthdays and generally are looked to for advice and support.
Gay said there are some specific kinds of cases in which female officers are especially helpful, such as those involving sexual violence and children.
“The women and children tend to be drawn to them,” he said.
Thomas, who worked with Rogers for two years in Aiken, said female officers often take on special roles at their departments. That includes being nurturers, a nod toward Rogers, who was often referred to as the “mother hen” of her shift.
“We play a little different role within the department,” Thomas said.