Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Being a Cop and a Mom

Someone recently stumbled upon my blog via a Google search of “Being a cop and a mom.” I’m hoping that person will return. Even though I started blogging with fellow members of NY/TriState Sisters in Crime at Women of Mystery over a year ago, this blog is new. I welcome the opportunity to blog about being a cop and a mom, or at least what it was like when I was on the job, and how it was and is for many women officers who are also moms.

The topic is a broad one (no pun intended), and I’m sure I’ll be writing several posts on the subject from time to time.

Women are in the minority in the field of law enforcement. As for my own experience, it has grown leaps and bounds since I began in 1986. As law enforcement agencies have adjusted to having women on the job, they’ve also had to face the issue of pregnant officers.

Each department is different concerning their policies with pregnant officers. I can tell you about how it was when I was on the job (which isn’t the same today). Pregnant officers were allowed to work the desk up until the time they were ready to give birth. They could take a maternity leave, either using accrued time (sick, personal, vacation) or take an unpaid leave of absence (up to 9 months of the pregnancy and 9 months following), but along with the unpaid leave came the loss of medical benefits.

Since it took nearly five years to conceive, and I rarely took vacations (it was tough to plan trips when you hope you're going to conceive), my accruals built up. I endured years of infertility treatments (which could be explained in a dozen posts), but during a third IVF attempt, we succeeded. By this time, I was no longer in patrol but in Public Information, which doubled as the front desk of Police Headquarters, and I was also answering the Crime Stoppers tips line.

I had been studying for the Sergeant’s exam, and when it came time to register for the civil service exam, I realized that I’d be eight months pregnant by the time the test came around. There was one problem: the tests were administered at Suffolk Community College, where all the desks are attached, and I couldn’t imagine squeezing into the attached desk and chair.

So, I checked the box on the form for special accommodations, and explained my dilemma. The day of the test, I walked into my assigned room. There was one large table with a chair in the center of the room, and a proctor at the front of the room. I was embarrassed to have a room and a proctor to myself, and I even asked why I had to be alone. She said that if I was in a room with other test takers who saw the large desk I had, they’d want one, too. Also, if a large person needed this accommodation, it might be embarrassing in a class full of people sitting in attached desks.

I took the sergeant’s exam a few times, usually scoring in the 90s, but in order to be considered, you must get 100 or close to it ~ It’s highly competitive, and takes years of studying to do well.

I worked up until the week before I gave birth, and I used six months of sick, vacation, and personal leave to be home with my daughter.

After being in Public Information and Crime Stoppers, which were desk jobs, I decided not to pursue the sergeant’s exam. I didn’t want to make it. After working midnights in Public Information, then steady weekends (alternating weeks of day & night shifts), then getting sent back to patrol for two years (the County Exec at the time cut commands and sent cops back to patrol, creating overtime situations, which didn't help), and returning to Public Information (just in time for the Katie Beers kidnapping, a huge media event), and eventually getting a Sunday through Thursday tour in Crime Stoppers, and later a Monday through Friday position, I didn’t want to give it up. I loved the work in Crime Stoppers, and I was fortunate to have a Monday through Friday position, alternating shifts. A week of 8 am to 4 p.m., followed by a week of 4 pm to midnight. Making sergeant would mean a promotion, of course, but it also meant a new command, and I’d lose my steady schedule. The stability of the schedule was extremely helpful when it came to being a mom ~ at least when they were very young.

Once my firstborn entered kindergarten, however, it meant I didn’t see her every other week, five days a week. By the time she got home, I was at work for a 4 pm to midnight shift. Since my husband was working full time, also, we had to enroll our daughter in an after-school program, since no one was home to meet the bus. Our son was enrolled in a full-time preschool. After a 4x12, I'd stay up late; how many people come home after a 9x5 job and jump right into bed? I'd watch TV, or write emails, surf the web, write, eat, etc. I'd get up early the next morning to get my daughter ready for the bus ~ it was my only chance to see her during the week of nights.

During my 4x12 weeks, I’d call the kids every night to chat and say goodnight.

I remember an officer who was pregnant and hid it, staying on the street until she was almost five months pregnant. I asked her how she handled morning sickness; she said she'd just roll down the window of the patrol car and throw up.

The Suffolk County Police Department faced lawsuits from pregnant officers who were told they couldn't work light-duty assignments; that they had to go home and start their maternity leave. An article on FindLaw, written by Joanna Grossman, explains the lawsuit. I worked with the officers mentioned in her article, Sarah and Sandy -- both super cops and moms. The unfair treatment was a frustrating time for female officers. In the end, however, they prevailed.

Well, that's a condensed overview of my experience of being a cop and a mom!


  1. Interesting. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Thanks for sharing that, Kathleen. The conception to pregnancy to mom journey is quite something for working adults (having witnessed it first hand with my wife). I don't think I could not imagine it any more stressful than when we're talking about the principals being in law enforcement. Plus, I marvel at the resilience of women, in general. The quote of the officer dealing with morning sickness is the prime example. Hearing her (and seeing it with my wife), I still wonder how they do it. The last thing I EVER WANT TO DEAL with is throwing-up--if it happens to me, I KNOW I'M DYING! ;-)

    Great post.

  3. Hi Chris,
    Thanks for reading & commenting!

    Hi le0pard13,
    Oh, it was quite interesting at times. I had to have an officer cover the front desk for me while my husband, who drove to Police HQ, had to give me a shot (with a huge needle...where the sun don't shine). That cycle ended up being the successful one, and the cop who watched the desk for me felt he "helped" ~ very cute.

    It turned out my husband's high blood pressure (calcium channel blockers) was the culprit (after years of infertility drugs, surgeries, IUIs, etc). It was discovered by a research biologist at North Shore University Hospital, and is not very well known that this medicine can render sperm incapable of fertilizing an egg! The drug companies want to keep that particular side effect a secret...meanwhile, couples are re-mortgaging their homes for a chance at IVF that won't work!

  4. Sounds tough. Definitely important for kids to have a pretty stable schedule. And that's hard to achieve in many jobs, much less being a police officer.

  5. Hi Charles,
    The schedule was a mixed blessing. It offered the stability of being off every weekend with the family ~ that was a gift; it was rare, as a cop, to have that stability. The difficulty was not seeing the kids every other week at night when they became school age. I was happy to have my job, happy to work at something I loved, but I missed the kids on the night shifts, that's for sure. I even turned down an offer for a detective's position in order to keep my schedule.

  6. Wow, Kathleen, the more I learn about you, the more I appreciate what a dynamic person you are. Being a mom, I think, is one of the highest callings, being a cop is pretty darned close up there too, and of course being a writer is for sure high on the list! So glad I met you, you're an inspiration, especially on days like today, when I just want to take a long nap! Your blog is going well.

  7. Hi Madeline,
    Thank you so much for all of your kind words!
    There's nothing wrong with wanting to take a long nap ~ I give in every now and then!
    I'm so glad I got to meet you, too. I can't believe almost a year has passed since then, but the good news is we will meet again very soon. Thanks for all of your encouraging remarks!

  8. Hello Kathleen. I just stumbled upon your blog. I'm not sure if you even follow up with it anymore. However, if you do I would love to share my dissertation with you, titled "Policemoms: Perceptions of Motherhood and Policy in Ohio Police Organizations". I am a police officer (so is my husband) and I understand the challenges of being a mom in LE. That is why I dedicated much of my research to helping LEO moms.

  9. Hello Kathleen,
    This blog is has helped me when it comes to preparing to have another child and working in the L.E. field. I am currently a Criminal Justice student but by the time I get into the field I will be about at the point of wanting to expand my family. Thank you kathleen from a single mom going into the field.