After five years in the military, Sandra Edwards wanted a job that presented her with something new every day.
So for the past eight years, Deputy Edwards has patrolled the streets as an officer with the Richmond County Sheriff's Department. Since 1995, she has worked on one of the agency's two housing task forces that patrol public housing complexes.
The sheriff's department has six task forces and, as a precaution, tries to include at least one female deputy on each of them. There are six female officers working on task forces out of 54 total officers.
To sheriff's officials, the need for gender diversity is twofold: ebbing the rise in women committing crimes and heading off potential sexual-harassment claims by female prisoners.
"Sometimes we encounter female suspects who can't be searched like a man," said sheriff's Capt. Jim Griffin, who oversees the task forces.
At least one female deputy is required when female prisoners are transported from Augusta to the state women's prison in Sandersville, Ga.
In addition to being a preventive measure for potential harassment lawsuits, there is an increased need for female deputies because there is more crime committed by women, officials said.
"Twenty years ago, you didn't have as many women committing crimes (as there) are today," said sheriff's Sgt. Glenn Sammons of the Crime Suppression Team. "The more they get into crime, the more we need female officers. And we've got some good ones."
However, the department does not purposely search for female officer candidates, and there is no target number or percentage, sheriff's Chief Deputy Ronald Strength said.
"We're constantly looking at the number of females in different positions," he said. "We want good qualified folks whether they are male or female. ... We have an excellent number of females who do an excellent job in their fields."
The sheriff's department as a whole has 75 female officers out of 540, but those numbers are misleading, with a disproportionate number assigned to the county's jails, Chief Deputy Strength said.
Of those female officers, 41 are white and 34 are minorities.
Some task forces don't have female deputies. The Housing Task Force has one, Deputy Edwards, on two units, but no women are represented on the DUI, narcotics and motorcycle task forces.
This sometimes calls for Deputy Edwards to leave her patrol job to assist other task forces with female suspects, something she said she doesn't mind.
"I wouldn't be doing this unless I enjoyed my job," she said.
One task force, the Crime Suppression Team, on Oct. 8 added its first female officer, Deputy Bonnie Kalbskopf.
She was hand-picked for the multipurpose team, which handles street-level drug activity, high-risk arrest warrants, thefts, burglaries and other matters.
"There was a need for a female, and I thought it would be a good chance to learn more and get some additional training," Deputy Kalbskopf said.
Other than serving as risk-management tools, female officers can be a calming presence when it comes to heightened situations, Deputy Kalbskopf said.
"There are a lot of things that I can get away saying as far as de-escalating situations that a man can't," she said. "I can say nice words like please in a question format and they might be more apt to listen to me. Whereas a man sounds like that, someone might take it as a sign of weakness and try and push them a little more."
Deputies Edwards and Kalbskopf said they have had no problems working in the mostly male environment of the sheriff's department. Deputy Edwards, however, said she places some pressure on herself.
"I feel like I have to prove myself more than a man would," she said. "I've never had a problem, and I'm showing that I can do what men do."
Some female deputies might have that feeling, Capt. Griffin said, but the department does not treat them differently from male deputies.
"Most of them probably would feel like that because of their gender, but they hold their own," Capt. Griffin said. "They make mistakes just like men do, but that's human nature. They're just another officer."
Reach Mark Mathis at (706) 823-3227 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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