It is what the policewomen of Cleveland deal with every time they put on their uniform and exit their homes to face the unknown. The six female officers with the Cleveland Police Department are trained to be every bit as capable as their male counterparts.
It is their maternal instincts, however, that gives these law enforcement officers the perfect balance with Cleveland’s most precious possession — children.
Officer Evie West, the public relations and recruiting officer who also serves as public information and training officer, started her day Monday morning by speaking to a criminal justice class at Cleveland High School.
Among the things she discussed with students is the importance of proper nutrition and being in shape in law enforcement, protecting yourself at all times, even during a pat-down, and her own life choices to go from a young LA gang member to one of the most respected women in Cleveland as described in her riveting autobiographical new book “Revolving Choices.”
The 35-year-old officer told the class of attentive students, “Some of us have made bad choices throughout life. You guys know my story and the bad choices I made. Some kids decided at an early age ‘I’m not going to be a statistic. I’m not going to do the wrong thing. I’m going to make good choices and have a life that is full of joy, good expectations and good outcomes.’”
West admitted during the interview, “I never grew up wanting to be a police officer. In fact I never thought I could be. Now I believe God has me here for a purpose.
“When I’m able to go to the schools and talk to kids about making good choices — that’s very rewarding. I like to bring officers who have made good choices and speak to them about pursuing education and making right choices. I wasn’t strong enough during that time of my life to do that.
“I want to save other people the heartache of having babies prematurely. Being in public relations and being able to share with kids the mistakes I made so they can learn from those mistakes really uplifts me. That’s my passion.”
The straightforward officer brings a different officer to each class to speak about their specific job to give students a variety of choices for future careers.
“We do patrol, SWAT, sniper, canine, the bomb unit — I want these kids to know that each person is unique and is hand-picked to do their job,” she said.
According to West, being on patrol as a first responder was very rewarding, but the opportunity to become the only school resource officer for all six elementary schools in the city of Cleveland, in 2002, became a privilege and her first love.
“I really like kids,” West said. “I like little ones all the way up to high schoolers. I just love kids! When the opportunity opened for me to be at school — that was the best choice for me at the time.
“I was a single parent with a 6-year-old. When I was on patrol we had to work third shift for four months, second shift for four months and first shift for four months. These shifts made it difficult for me to be involved in my son’s life as an only parent. I had to live with my mom and dad. One month you’re off weekends, the next month you’re off during the weekdays. I just decided on my off days, it’s just me and my son.”
Now that she is married with a family, West seems even more appreciative of the sacrifices officers often make for their loved ones.
“A lot of police officers sacrifice a lot for their families and for their jobs because essentially they’re providing for their families, but they have to miss baseball games, football games and birthday parties — we’re expected to work Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s, Easter — you have to give that up,” she said.
Officer April Ratcliff, 36, currently an SRO at Blythe Bower Elementary, said, “The main thing is security for the school. That’s most important. We have over 600 students here so mainly it’s about observing, making sure people are checking in, knowing who’s walking around and who’s in the building.”
Ratcliff, who has been with the department for seven years, admits her job has an impact on her lifestyle, including where she shops and dines. But running into students around town is considered one of the perks of the job.
“The thing about the schools here is — if I go to a Walmart and see the children, they’re all like — ‘Hey, Officer April!’ It’s like a relationship you have with them. It’s almost like they’re my kids too.’ I’m with them every day and I see them all the time. At times we’ve been able to help them and change their lives. It’s definitely rewarding. That’s why we do it.”
Patrol officer Jen McGuire, is the city’s newest female police officer, hired Feb. 14, or “Valentines Day” as she says with a smile.
“I’m always going to be nice to people unless I have to get firm,” McGuire said. “I can get tough if I have to.”
Raised in Michigan by religious parents, McGuire’s father was what she calls “a small group pastor in a really large church of 6,000 to 7,000 members.”
McGuire, 26, moved to Cleveland in 2003. She served as a bartender for a while before choosing a career in law enforcement. Her husband is a police officer with the Chattanooga Police Department. Inside McGuire’s patrol car is a front and back radar unit so she can pick up speeding cars going both ways.
“I find more people coming behind me speeding than I do in front of me,” she said. “You can actually point it in different directions.”
According to McGuire, who writes an average of seven or eight tickets a week, the goal is to prevent accidents and fatalities.
“I feel like I’m doing people a favor by slowing them down,” said McGuire, who confessed she was surprised by the graciousness of some local residents.
“Some people will thank me for their ticket. I explain to them they can either pay it by this date or go to court. And some will say, ‘Thank you!’ I’m thinking, (laughing) ‘Did you really thank me for that $109 ticket?’ You’re welcome.”
Being raised with respect for a higher authority, McGuire said things have changed since she was a little girl, but her respect for authority has only grown. Although some people have the wrong view of police officers in general, McGuire welcomed the opportunity to set the record straight.
“We’re really about helping people and keeping order. I’m not doing this because I want to be better than a guy. I’ve always had a lot of respect for authority,” she said.
“It bothers me the way some people disrespect authority. I respect the law. I love this job. It took me two years to get hired and it’s worth it. It’s also nice to be married to a police officer because he understand what it’s like.”
According to West, officers are always on guard because safety is a primary issue when they encounter any situation, which can be unnerving.
“Sometimes people say police officers are rude but it’s about our safety — our lives. Because of the constant pressure of not knowing who we’re coming in contact with we’re often thought of as rude, insensitive and brash, but it’s not necessarily like that,” she said. “Sometimes we feel threatened and it just comes across that way.”
Officer Jennifer McKee, 28, started at age 16 as a volunteer with the Cleveland Police Department. McKee, who went to Cleveland High School and graduated from Middle Tennessee University with a bachelor’s degree in psychology, said, “A lot of times, being a female, I tend to address domestic and children victim crimes. Sometimes they open up a lot better to women than they do to men.”
As a field training officer, McKee is also responsible for training new officers and performing various duties that makes her a real asset to the Cleveland Police Department.
“When there’s a female (prisoner) who needs to be searched — city or county — and no one else is available, I’ll go out and do female searches,” she said.
While McKee lives in Cleveland, the inconspicuous officer said it is often the children who recognize her around town.
“I’ll see kids in the store I’ve helped and they recognize me. They run up and give you hugs. That’s rewarding.”
McKee started a Rape Aggression Defense (R.A.D.) class for women ages 14 and beyond. The free program offers realistic self-defense tactics and techniques. The course begins with awareness, prevention, risk reduction and risk avoidance, while progressing on to the basics of hands-on defense training.
“I love when you can help someone,” McKee said. “So often when we see someone it is only for 15 minutes — unless it’s a bad situation and mostly in court. But there are times when you’ll see someone maybe six months down the road and they’ve turned their life around. I arrested a drunk driver once. We went to court. He had completed his case.
“About a year later a friend of his told me the arrest changed his life. He had quit drinking and things were better. You don’t usually see that. It’s in those tiny moments when you get to see the full circle of what you’ve done.”
Other female officers like Shelia Freeman, a lieutenant on patrol who was the first female police officer hired with the Cleveland Police Department, in 1980, and Brandy Brown, a patrol officer working third shift, are proving that the policewomen of Cleveland represent the law enforcement community on the highest level.
“Being on the road, being a school resource officer, being on SWAT — girls can do pretty much what the guys do,” West told a Cleveland High School class.
“We can be on K-9 patrol, the bomb squad, defensive tackling instructors. I teach Taser, OC (pepper) spray, cultural diversity, Spanish and mental health. There are a lot of things we’re able to do that 50 years ago were unheard of. Now more and more women want to be in this profession, and we need them.”
McKee added, “I love my job and would not change it, or the guys I work with, for anything!” Her sentiments were echoed by other female officers of the department.
According to the magazine The Police Chief, the professional voice of law enforcement, “In 1971 women made up only 1.4 percent of all police officers. Today policewomen account for more than 13 percent of police officers, and they serve in all types and sizes of police agencies, in all ranks, in all kinds of work assignments, and in all parts of the country.”