CRESTVIEW — When workers at a Tom Thumb convenience store noticed a distressed woman hanging around their business, they were relieved that it was Crestview Police Officer Christie London who responded to their call.
Sometimes it takes a woman to soothe a situation, especially if another woman's involved.
"I have a mother-like way," London said. "When they talk about a personal issue, women aren't going to go into detail with a guy (officer)."
"It's very interesting to see how a person reacts to a male officer versus a female officer," Officer Wanda Hulion said. "It's a good, different way. Like if you have a drunk, they see me as a mother figure and they just want to talk and get it off their chest."
Officers London, Hulion and Cristina Dawson, Christine Lawrence and Nikki Monica are Crestview Police's five female patrol officers. (Investigator and evidence custodian Jennifer Bellamy, who is also on the agency's reserve force, is also a sworn law enforcement officer.)
"Becoming a police officer has been a dream of mine as long as I can remember," Dawson, a recent graduate of Northwest Florida State College's police academy, said.
"I always wanted to do something that had to do with helping people," Lawrence, who is currently in the academy, said. "I thought for a long time I wanted to be an EMT. I never thought I could be a cop, but I ended up losing a bunch of weight and I figured, now it's my time. My kids were in school so it was time for me to do what I wanted to do."
"I was a stay-at-home mom for 12 years," London said. "I saw a lot of females in law enforcement and I said, 'I can do that.'"
As a kid in her native Germany, positive interaction with police officers encouraged Monica to pursue a career in law enforcement.
"My childhood was the reason I became a cop and now I love making a change in people's lives," she said. "When I was a child, I experienced several negative events and the police were the only ones who cared about me."
NOT JUST FOR MEN
Entering a male-dominated profession isn't as daunting as some may think, the officers said, but sometimes they had to prove themselves.
"It is not impossible, but tough skin, hard work and dedication are imperative," Dawson said. "There are many male officers that welcome women into the field. I came into this with a huge disadvantage. I have no previous experience in law enforcement, corrections or the military so I started at square one, which made the trust factor with my brothers in blue much harder."
"I don't think it's a challenge, but I definitely think when you come in as a woman, you start off having to show you can do what it's assumed you could do as a man," Lawrence said. "But it's definitely doable."
"I'd never worked in a job where it was a predominantly a male role," Hulion said. "Nobody's given me grief, though. I don't need to be looked up to. I just want to be by their (male cops') side."
And that's fine with her male co-workers.
"I believe anyone who meets the standards should be given the badge," Officer Nate Marlar said. "I have as much respect for any female officer as I do for any male officer. I believe the standards should be equal across the board and. at the Crestview Police Department, they are."
"There are many male officers that welcome women into the field," Dawson said. "I have been extremely lucky and blessed when it comes to role models at the police department. Chief (Tony) Taylor and Deputy Chief (Rick) Brown took a chance on me with, again, me having zero experience coming into this field."
Like most cops, one of the biggest boosts the women receive is from their families.
"My kids just love that I'm a cop," London said. "They are proud. But they say the best sound they ever heard was Velcro being pulled apart when I take off my vest. That means Mom's home."
"My dad told me he hasn't seen me this happy since high school," Lawrence said. "And my kids are really excited. When I went to my son's school, he couldn't wait to introduce me to all his friends because I had my uniform on."
"Most of my family members were supportive, except my dad and grandmother, but they both came around," Hulion said. "My husband stood behind me 100 percent."
The women said their families understand the risks of being a police officer.
"When you take this badge and you wear it, we all bleed blue," London said. "And my kids do, too. They know Mom may not come back from work. It's a very rewarding job but it can be a very tough job."
"My family is nervous but they're excited for me, too," Lawrence said. "They're happy to see me finally reach my goal."
Monica said the main downside is the job's demands on an officer's family time.
"My family does feel the pain when it comes to holidays and family events," she said. "I miss out on some family stuff but it is OK for us. They know I am out there making a difference, saving someone's life and protecting them and others."
Crestview's women in blue encouraged other women to join them in a law enforcement career.
"We need more female officers," Hulion said. "I think we bring something positive to the team. It's a big plus for the police department. It's a challenging career but it is rewarding."
"There are many female officers that have proven successful," Dawson said.
"Becoming a cop was the best decision I ever made in my life," Monica said. "And I have proven to myself — and several others — that just because you started out on a bad path in your life, it doesn't always have to stay like that."
"It's all about the service," Dawson said.
"Serving the community, protecting the community, giving back to the community, every day."