RECORD HIGH NUMBER OF FEMALE OFFICERS
|This article was published in the February 2009 issue of AMERICAN POLICE BEAT, a national law enforcement publication. It may be reprinted in whole, or part, in your publication, but it must include the following attribution: "Reprinted with permission of the author and AMERICAN POLICE BEAT."|
A convenience store camera had caught the entire incident on videotape-every horror-filled moment. Nicola Cotton, a 24-year-old New Orleans police officer, had been brutally murdered while attempting to arrest a rape suspect.
It was a Monday morning, January 28, 2008. One of her colleagues, Matt Patin,
was among the first officers on the scene. He had heard the urgent radio
transmission from the police dispatcher saying that an officer needed help just
a few blocks away. When he arrived on the scene, he stepped over a number of
spent shell casings and saw his friend, Nicola, lying motionless on the ground
and bleeding from her head. "I dropped down on the ground next to her and called
her name, 'Nicola, Nicola.' I was hoping she would answer, but deep down, I knew
she would not," he said later.
After watching his friend taken away in an ambulance, Matt went into the
nearby convenience store and learned about the videotape of the incident. "I
watched Nicola fight for her life for almost seven minutes," he said. "I watched
the killer stand over her and shoot her over and over and over. When she
squirmed, he took another shot. She did not go down without a fight. While I was
watching the video, I thought, "You go girl — you gave it your all."
Nicola Cotton became the first of 15 female officers killed in the line of duty in 2008 (based on preliminary findings by the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund in Washington, DC). There has never been a deadlier year for women in the history of American law enforcement. The only other year to match that record-high total was 2002. Ironically, the overall number of law enforcement fatalities in 2008 was 140, the second lowest figure in more than 40 years. This means that for the first time ever, more than 10 percent of all of the officers killed last year were women.
Among those 15 female officer fatalities, six were killed in automobile crashes, four, including Officer Cotton, were shot to death, two were struck and killed by vehicles, one was stabbed, one died in a train crash and one died of a job-related illness.
According to the International Association of Women Police, women have been involved in police work since 1845, when they were first assigned as matrons in the New York City Police Department. But it was not until 1893 in Chicago that a woman, Marie Owens-the widow of a Chicago police officer-was actually given the rank and pay of "policeman." In 1910, Alice Stebbins Wells of the Los Angeles Police Department, became the first woman to be classified as "policewoman," and was given arrest powers. Over the next 60 years, only nine female officers were killed in the line of duty, compared to 9,279 male officers who died during that same period of time.
The first woman in the United States to be killed in the line of duty was Anna Hart, a jail matron with the Hamilton County (OH) Sheriff's Department. On July 24, 1916, she was beaten over the head with an iron bed post by a prisoner in the county jail who was attempting to escape.
A similar fate awaited another jail matron, Mary T. Davis, eight years later in Wilmington, Delaware. A female prisoner, Annie Lewis, had been arrested for threatening her husband with a pistol. Matron Davis was put in charge of her and she was alone with the prisoner on the second floor of the Wilmington jail. When Matron Davis observed water coming out of Lewis's jail cell, she went in to investigate and was savagely beaten about the head with a chunk of concrete. Though 67 years of age, Matron Davis put up a fierce fight against her much younger attacker. Department records reflect that the funeral procession for Mary Davis was the largest Wilmington had ever seen. The inscription on her gravestone helps explain why. It reads: "Mary T. Davis - A Friend to All."
Since 1970, though, there have been 220 women killed in law enforcement service (about three percent of the total law enforcement fatalities for that period), which is indicative of the substantially higher number of women in law enforcement beginning in the 1970s. Interestingly, the 15 female officers who made the ultimate sacrifice in 2008 was approximately 11 percent of the total number of fatalities, which is nearly identical to the total percentage of sworn female officers serving in the United States today (11.7 percent, according to the FBI Uniform Crime Report for 2007).
Skagit County (WA) Sheriff's Deputy Anne Jackson, 40, was described by one of her law enforcement colleagues as "the champion of the underdog." Her law enforcement career began as the department's first animal control officer. She gained great satisfaction rescuing abused and neglected pets. A few years later, though, she wanted to help victimized people and became a patrol deputy. Tragically, though, her valued service to her community ended on the afternoon of September 2, 2008.
Deputy Jackson was responding to a trespassing complaint in the small
northwest Washington town of Alger. When she did not respond to a radio status
check another deputy was sent to investigate. He found Deputy Jackson shot to
death, along with another murder victim at the same location. Two other
construction workers were found shot and killed nearby and yet another body was
discovered a few houses away. The murder suspect was a mentally deranged killer
who had recently served six months in jail for the possession of drugs. Before
finally being captured, the 28-year-old man killed another motorist, his sixth
murder victim, and wounded four others, including a Washington state trooper.
Deputy Jackson had touched many lives during her law enforcement career. Even the mother of her killer told of how Deputy Jackson had reached out to her in the past, trying to help with her mentally ill son. "She was very gracious," Dennise Zamora said. "She knew exactly what we were going through."
Among the onlookers at Deputy Jackson's funeral was a homeless woman who had only met the caring law enforcement professional once. "I was homeless, and she pulled up in her patrol car, rolled down the window, and handed me five bucks. I'll never forget it."
Skagit County Sheriff Rick Grimstead said, "We all grieve for [Deputy Jackson] and all the families of all the other victims. It's not just our loss. It's the community's loss."
Craig W. Floyd is chairman of the National law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund and is a regular contributor to AMERICAN POLICE BEAT. Visit www.nleomf.org for more information about law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty.