A look at women police writers
March is Women’s History Month. Nearly 600 state and local police officers in the Untied States have written books. And, twenty-one of those police officers are women. Like their male counterparts, they have written fiction, autobiographies, academic texts and even poetry. Interestingly enough, the most successful writer of romantic fiction is a retired male motorcop. Put the motorcop aside for the moment and let’s take a brief tour of the history of women police officers as writers.
Women in Policing
There is some disagreement about who should be thought of as the first women police officer in the United States. In 1910, Alice Stebbin Wells joined the Los Angeles Police Department and was the first woman to be called a “Policewoman.” However, in 1905, Lola Baldwin was hired by Portland Police Department (Oregon), given somewhat limited police powers and put in charge of group of social workers.
It has been said that Baldwin was the first woman to have sworn authority. Still earlier, in 1893, Mary Owens was given the rank of Policeman in the Chicago Police Department. While Owens worked in the department 30 years, she had been given this title and job as the widow of a slain officer. At that time in our history, lacking today’s survivor benefits, some organizations took care of the police family by providing widows with jobs within the department.
Although who was first is open to debate, the types of function that early women police officers performed were fairly similar. According to Barbara Raffel Rice, “the early history of women police consisted largely of social service in which women had to meet higher standards for police employment, but received lower wages, were restricted to a special unit or bureau, and were assigned primarily to clerical, juvenile, guard duty and vice work1.”
These restrictive roles in policing lasted well into the mid 1970s. Indeed, it would not be until the mid 1970s that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was found by the Court to be applicable to policing agencies2. Although women were becoming more and more full partners in policing, their roles often restricted their advancement. Simply put, you couldn’t promote if you didn’t have patrol experience and you couldn’t work the patrol if you were a women. By the mid-1980s a series of court decisions knocked down the last official barriers to a women’s career in local law enforcement.
In 2003, women comprised 11.3% of local officers, “up from 10.6% in 2000, and 7.6% in 19873. Another hallmark in the history of women in policing occurred in 1985 when Penny Harrington became the first woman to be named Chief of Police for a major city. In addition to having been the chief of police for the Portland Police Department (Oregon), Harrington is also among the women police writers.
Women as Police Writers
In 1999, Chief Penny Harrington published her autobiography, “Triumph of Spirit.” In addition to that book, she is the author of the 2006 academic work, “Investigating Sexual Harassment in Law Enforcement and Nontraditional Fields for Women.” Harrington is likely the highest ranking female law enforcement professional to publish, but she is not the earliest. Since this is a historical look at women police officers as writers is makes sense to view them somewhat chronologically4.
Dorothy Uhnak joined the New York City Transit Police Department in 1954. She rose to the rank of detective and left the department around 1968 after her first novel “The Bait” was published. Her debut book won the 1969 Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America and was made into a movie. Her most famous novel may be “The Ledger” which was also made into a television film “Get Christie Love.”
Like their male counterparts, women police writers not only write from their experiences but tend to write about their experiences in either an autobiography or a semi-autobiographical form of short stories. In the 1960s, Marie Cirile was a New York Police Department vice detective in and around Manhattan. Her book, “Detective Marie Cirile: Memoirs of a Police Officer,” is, according to one reader, a “compelling personal story with a subtle writing style which makes for a wonderful read and excellent research material.”
In 1967, Gayleen Hay joined the Los Angeles Police Department. Her 1993 autobiography is entitled “Policewoman One” In 1968, women police officers represented around one percent of the NYPD. Indeed, in Kathy Burke’s academy class of 950 recruits, there were only 10 women. In “Detective: The Inspirational Story of the Trailblazing Woman Cop Who Wouldn't Quit,” Burke tells the story of her 23 year career and her rise to becoming the most highly decorated female detective in NYPD history.
Donna Wudyka was hired by the Detroit Police Department in 1987. She retired on a duty-related disability in 1997. Her 2000 book, “Shattered Badges, Broken Hearts: An Officer's Nightmare” is the true-life account of a January 1996 officer-involved-shooting that claimed the life of police officer Patrick Prohm. According to Donna Wudyka, her book, “describes the aftermath of the shooting, and the hell that the City of Detroit put my partner and I through.”
In 1980, Mary Glatze, of the New York Police Department, published “Muggable Mary,” an inside look at her participation in undercover work in the NYPD street crimes unit. In 1989, Mona Ruiz joined the Santa Ana Police Department (California). As a police officer, she worked patrol, gangs and narcotics. A native of Santa Ana, she became a police officer after overcoming her youthful involvement with gangs and an abusive marriage. She recounts her life story in the 2005 book, “Two Badges: The Lives Of Mona Ruiz.”
Joanna Purl of the Houston Police Department tells her policing journey in “Blue Reality: From the Police Academy to Working the Streets.” Written in 1997 when she was working gangs, her book is, according to her publisher, written in “in a light-hearted way about a very serious subject.” In 2002, Gina Gallo of the Chicago Police Department published her autobiography in “Armed and Dangerous: Memoirs of a Chicago Policewoman.” She followed that up in 2002 with “Crime Scenes;” a series of true-life short stories about police work.
Laurie Drummond began her police career as a dispatcher in Ithaca, New York. She moved to Louisiana where she first took an assignment as a plainclothes officer in the crime prevention division of Louisiana State University. Ultimately, she joined the Baton Rouge Police Department and began working uniformed patrol. A serious car accident ended Drummond’s police career, but open the door to her writing career. Her first book published in 2004, is “Anything You Say Can and Will Be Used Against You.” According to Publisher’s Weekly, “Combining Southern grace and urban brutality, ex-cop Drummond debuts with 10 short stories grouped into five blistering fictional portraits of Baton Rouge policewomen.”
In 2006, Maureen Tracy joined the ranks of police writers who have provided an inside look at police misconduct and corruption. Her book, “The Department,” is an account of her experiences on the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department. Maureen Tracy stated about her book, “One fall morning I received the phone call that changed my life. In turn of personal traumatic events I made a mistake on the job. However, despite the mitigating circumstances discovered through the Internal Affairs investigation, I found myself on the chopping block and headed toward termination.”
A “police procedural” is sub-genre of mystery stories. In essence, it tells the story while attempting to accurately portray the activities of police officers. Writing from their experiences, both male and female police officers have authored many fictional stories while remaining true to how it really works. Angela Amato was an NYPD detective who left the force and became a Legal Aid attorney. Her 1998 crime fiction novel is “Lady Gold.”
A veteran of over 20 years in law enforcement, Robin Burcell joined the Lodi Police Department (California) at the age of 23. She was the first woman police officer in that department. She worked patrol, detectives and as a hostage negotiator. She left Lodi to become an expert in forensic art, fingerprints, and child abuse; ultimately joining Sacramento County (California) as a criminal investigator. In 1995, she began a series of police procedurals featuring the character Kate Gillespie, a homicide inspector in San Francisco. Robin Burcell’s books include “Fatal Truth” and “Cold Case.”
Rosanna Filippello was born and raised in Philadelphia and joined the Philadelphia Police Department in 1993. Of her five books, three are a series of police procedurals entitled the “Angelo Mystery Series.”
True Crime and True Life
In addition to writing fictional accounts of crime, many police authors lend their expertise at the semi-journalistic trade of True Crime. As an example, in 2004, Lieutenant Winona M. Franz retired from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. Her book, “Guiltless” is a true crime novel about the “real cases investigated by author.”
Volitta Fritsche is a detective sergeant with the Morgan County Sheriff’s Department. In addition to her 18 years with the Morgan County Sheriff’s Department (Indiana), she has an additional 8 years experience in the criminal justice system having worked as a dispatcher, corrections officer and court reporter. Of her two books, “Deadly Decisions” is the story of a mother’s search for her missing son.
In 2000, reflecting life through poetry, Sarah Cortez, of the Houston Police Department, published a book of poetry entitled, “How to Undress a Cop.”
Seriously Academic and others
A natural extension of the genres of police procedurals and true crime is academic work focused on teaching law enforcement related subjects. Indeed, the best college text books on policing were likely authored by police officers. Debra Shinder, a former Police Officer with the Roanoke Police Department; and instructor at the North Central Texas Regional Police Academy and the Criminal Justice Training Center at Eastfield College, wrote two books "Computer Networking Essentials" and "Scene of the Cybercrime."
Captain Linda Forst is retired from the Boca Raton Police Department in Florida. She spent the majority of her career in the Uniformed Division, where she served as the first female Field Training Officer, Sergeant, Lieutenant, and Captain. She was an investigator in Crimes Against Persons, specializing in sex crimes. She was assigned to Professional Standards for several years and spent time commanding Support Services. She is a graduate of University of Louisville's Sex Crime Investigation Course, Northwestern University's School of Police Staff and Command, and numerous investigative and management schools. She is also the author of “The Aging of America: A Handbook for Police Officers.” Her latest book is an academic text she co-authored on “An Introduction to Policing.”
On the Horizon
Following in the footsteps of her great-grandfather, Sheriff Paul Berthelot, Sheriff of St. John the Baptist Parish (Louisiana); and that of her father, who was president of Fraternal Order of the Police, Lodge Two in the late 1950s, Dee Dee Serpas became a Police Officer. First with the East Jefferson Levee Board Police, then with the Kenner Police Department. Later, she joined the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office as a street cop. Her first book, “Behind the Badge in the Atchafalya Swamp” is due out soon.
There are more than 400 state and local police officers listed on www.police-writers.com; with nearly 200 others in the editor’s research file. Certainly, the list of police officers who have shared their life and talent through their public service and writing will continue to grow. Additions and suggestions are always welcome by the editor at email@example.com.
1. Rice, B. (1996) Female Police Officers in the United States. College of Police and Security Studies, Slovenia.
2. Essentially, this act made discrimination in employment based on race, color, religion, gender or national origin, illegal. An interesting side note is that gender was not an original component of the law. Gender was added to the original bill by a southern senator as a means of weakening support for its passage.
3. Local Police Departments. (2003) Law Enforcement Management and Administrative Statistics, Bureau of Justice Statistics.
4. The publication date was used as chronological guide.