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DERBY, VT - Not that long ago, a woman in law enforcement was an oddity unless she was working behind a desk. The television show "Cagney and Lacey" (1981-1988) attempted to break the stereotype, but the number of women police officers in the field didn't start growing until years later. Today, women make up about 20% of the approximately 40 graduates of a Vermont Police Academy class.
Six women troopers currently serve with Troop B at the Derby Vermont State Police Barracks: Trooper Second Class Abby Drew, Trooper First Class Debra Munson, Senior Troopers Erika Liss, Amy Bosari and Callie Field, and Detective Sergeant Kelly Clark. Each of these women is bright, educated, articulate and passionate about her job. They come from different backgrounds and experiences, but they have one thing in common, they love being Vermont State Police Troopers.
"Every day is different," said Det. Sgt. Kelley Clark. She came to the state police because she wanted work that was challenging and exciting, and she found it. Trooper Erika Liss agreed: "Each day is a surprise."
Trooper Debra Munson added, "You never know what the next day will bring."
That theme was reiterated throughout a recent interview held with the women of Troop B - Derby.
Surprisingly, not one trooper could name a specific family member or close friend who inspired her to go into law enforcement. Mostly, they all said, they just thought joining the police was "a good idea."
How do people treat you, compared to a male trooper?
"No different than a man," said Liss, probably the most outgoing of the group. "It all depends on how you talk to them." She said the public has gotten used to the idea of women being police officers.
"We're troopers first, females second," said Munson, who was recently involved in a foot pursuit in Island Pond.
Liss said that the troopers don't think of themselves as women and men, but as a barracks staffed with troopers.
The initial surprise usually comes when they pull someone over for a traffic stop, said Clark, but that reaction doesn't last long.
As long as the troopers stick to business and follow protocol, the people they interact with tend to respond accordingly. How to treat the public in a manner that garners respect is part of what the women learned at the police academy.
What did you learn at the police academy that you use most in your every day work?
Everything, was the general response. And, in some cases, nothing specific. The real answer is self-confidence, which isn't so much taught as it is learned.
"You learn how to talk to people," said Trooper Drew.
Liss stressed the importance of knowing the laws of the land, "which aren't always what you expect," she said with a smile. The statutes get interpreted on a case by case basis. "We use everything (we learned) every day."
"Nothing in this job is black and white," Munson said. She said that thinking like a police officer is exactly the opposite as thinking like a social worker. The police work hand in hand with social workers, but police don't have the time, resources or manpower to counsel individuals. "We can listen, but we need to get the facts for what we need and then move on," she said.
"In social work, you care about why you're in the situation you're in," said Liss. "We just need to know what happened."
Clark said cases are never black and white. "You get there and it's complicated."
"And no one tells you the truth," said Liss. "They tell you what they think is the truth, but it's skewed. There are always two sides to a story."
The women talked about the importance of self-discipline. To a certain extent, they plan their own days: when they meet with individuals they are interviewing, when they make phone calls, when they do paperwork, etc.
"You plan your own day," said Munson.
"You know what you need to get done and you do it," Clark said.
What will the future bring for these women?
"I'd like to be here for quite awhile," said Drew, the youngest of the group.
Liss said she plans to stay until she retires, which is a mandatory age 55. Then she wants to find a nice cabin in the woods and go fishing. All of the women enjoy working out, hiking, or other physical exercise. Some garden or spend time with family members or pets.
"I don't plan on going anywhere," said Munson.
Clark is planning for retirement in six years and hopes to spend time with her children and grand children.
Everybody loves their jobs, Liss said. "You should love your job, but your job has to support your life. You can't just work."
They all agreed that family support is essential for being a state trooper. The job requires a lot of commitment and long hours.
"It's a great career," Clark agreed. "There's lots of opportunities and so many specialties."
Liss agreed. "You can do almost anything," from lab work, to office work, to field work.
Drew said: "If it's what you want to do, go for it. Have fun."
"In the State of Vermont, it's probably the best job you can have," said Liss. "I have fun at work every day."