Fla. sisters follow in police dad's footsteps

By BegoNe Cazalis
The Miami Herald

MIAMI — As children, Jessica Townsend caught lizards and toads in the backyard of her Hialeah home as her sister Brandy played with Barbies and put on make-up.

The sisters grew up in the same house and attended the same schools, graduating from Hialeah High School. But that was where the similarities ended.

"I was the girly one and she was the tomboy," said Brandy, 22. "We never had the same friends or liked the same things."

As they grew up, Brandy developed a taste for electronic and New Age music; Jessica came to prefer hard rock and heavy metal.

Jessica played soccer and softball in high school and studied French and German. Brandy danced ballet, sang in the chorus and studied early child education.

They lived in the same house but they never really hung out together.

But there was a common bond in the family.

Their parents, Everett and Wendy Townsend, not only worked for Miami-Dade police, but also met at the county police headquarters then located in downtown Miami.

"They basically grew up at the police station," Wendy said.

The daughters also ended up working as clerks for the police department.

But even then, Brandy wanted to study marketing or education and Jessica, with a love for animals, hoped to become a veterinarian.

Then, one day in 2006, Jessica, 21, had an experience that would change her life.

"I went on a ride-along and saw what the day of a cop was like and I loved it because it is never the same and you are not behind a desk locked in an office," Jessica said.

"Every day is different; there is no routine for an officer."

She decided to follow in the footsteps of her father and was sworn into office in March.

Brandy, too, was attracted to police work because of the variety. She did not go on a ride-along but she paid attention to what the officers were doing and was impressed when Jessica signed on. She was sworn in on Nov. 2.

So the siblings now carry the badge, just like their dad -- and the 22-year veteran couldn't be more surprised.

"I never really encouraged them to be police officers. I thought they were college-bound and, now, all of a sudden, I see them both in their uniforms and it is so strange," said Townsend, who is based at the Miami-Dade Northwest District station in Miami Lakes.

But he fully supports their decision to join and he tells them that safety is always first in their line of work.

And if there is one thing somebody could have told him when he started his career -- and which he can now tell his daughters -- it is this: "Manage your money wisely."

"I wish somebody would have advised us on money management to be better off in retirement financially and with things like life insurance," he said. "I think everybody could benefit from that guidance."

Wendy, who is Townsend's ex-wife, is pleased her daughters work in law enforcement.

"I wanted to be an officer myself when I was young but, instead, I married one," said Wendy, who has worked for the police department for 25 years and is a network manager.

"Being an officer is just like being in a family," she said. "Everybody really takes care of each other. You'll make the strongest bonds of friendship. In no other job do you see that fraternity among everybody, not in the private industry. Plus, it is a stable career because there is always a need [for the police]."

But the job requires a lot of dedication, Jessica said. "Police officers work a lot. When you are off, you have to go to court. When you think you can leave, you get held back. And you can never have your lunch when you want to."

But when she can, it is often with Brandy.

"We now have lunch together and talk about our days. Plus, I know if I have any question about the job, I can ask her because she has more experience," Brandy said.

Or she can ask Dad, who "loves being a police officer."

"Policing is a wonderful career," Townsend said. "It is not only about finding the bad guy; it is also about getting to know and help your community and guiding young people."

Wendy and her daughters have been living in the same house in Hialeah for 19 years. Five years ago, a new "wonderful" addition came on the scene, when Jade Carrillo, Jessica's daughter, was born.

"She is very proud that I am a police officer; she shows me off among her friends," said Jessica, who has passed on her passion for animals to her daughter.

Jade already knows the difference between a toad and a frog and between a gecko and a salamander. She can also name many fish and she can catch butterflies.

Brandy is hoping that in 10 years she will be in community affairs.

Jessica, who is based at police headquarters in Doral and wants to be in traffic homicide, for now will keep on crossing paths with her dad at the station, having lunch with Brandy, who is in training, and visiting her mother whenever she has to pass by the main office.

It's all in the family.

Copyright 2007 The Miami Herald

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