Female police officers bring strength, ‘verbal judo’ in male-dominated field
ALPENA — Women who decide to become cops don’t scare easily, a new, young, and female police officer said.
One of the 10 female patrol officers in the area, Trooper Lyndsey Ryba, of the Michigan State Police-Alpena Post, said she entered the male-dominated profession of law enforcement knowing she might encounter treatment and expectations not faced by her male counterparts.
Her mom, at one time a paramedic and dispatcher in Montmorency County, told Ryba to not let being female stand in the way of doing the work she wanted to do, Ryba said, patrolling in Alpena County shortly after a day designated in honor of female police officers.
Celebrated annually on Sept. 12, National Police Woman Day recognizes the contribution of the women who, according to FBI data, made up only 13% of full-time law enforcement officers — only 8% in rural counties — in 2019.
In Northeast Michigan, about 11% of police officers — plus about 44% of corrections officers — are women.
No heads of local police agencies are women, although a female officer, Capt. Jennifer Johnson, recently took over as commander of the MSP 7th District, which includes the Alpena Post.
While they may offer different strengths and face different challenges on the job, police officers, both female and male, all fill the same role, Ryba said.
“We’re all expected to do the same thing,” she said. “Show up and do the job to the best of your abilities.”
‘LET ME DO MY THING’
Police work takes a strong personality, especially for a woman, said Ryba, who grew up in Hillman and returned to the Alpena area in February to take a position at the post.
Police academy, where troopers-in-training are pushed to their limit, gave her the confidence to believe she didn’t have to compete with male officers, Ryba said.
“It makes you realize how much you’re capable of,” she said of the rigorous training. “Which is way more than you thought.”
Inspired to consider a police career by both her mom and a friend who is a female Michigan Department of Natural Resources officer, Ryba said family and friends used to ask how she was going to hold her own against men she encountered on calls.
“There’s always people who are going to be bigger, stronger, faster,” she said. But, she said, she relies on her training in defensive tactics to keep her in charge in an aggressive encounter.
“And, if I ever need to, I’m fast,” Ryba grinned.
While some occasions require female officers to remain professional and even stern, it’s still OK for them to smile, and to wear earrings and fingernail polish, and to be a girl, she said.
Being female in uniform can mean people assume you need them to take charge, the officer said. Her mom taught her to stand firm in such situations.
“I got this,” she’ll tell people who try to take over a scene that’s hers, Ryba said. “I appreciate the help, but let me do my thing.”
‘MY SUPER POWER’
Male officers, on the whole, have an edge over females in strength and speed, said Deputy Michelle Reid, one of three female deputies at the Alpena County Sheriff’s Office.
In physical fitness standards issued by the Michigan Commission on Law Enforcement Standards, men have to perform at least 28 pushups to qualify to become an officer, while women are expected to perform only seven.
In a running exercise, a 40-year-old man is expected to finish significantly faster than a woman in her 20s, according to MCOLES.
When Reid took the physical fitness tests at the beginning of her law enforcement career, she asked to be judged according to male standards.
“I didn’t want special treatment,” she said.
Women in uniform will use physical force if needed, but they often don’t have to, Reid said.
Female officers can often avoid physical confrontation because they have strong communication skills and can deescalate a dicey situation.
“I’m real good at verbal judo,” Reid said. “It’s my super power.”
When on a scene with male officers, Reid has noticed that people naturally gravitate to her, seeming more comfortable talking to her than to the men.
Females and young people who sometimes clam up around a male officer may open up to a woman officer, sharing important information that will help police better respond to their needs.
Some subjects assume they can dominate female officers and try to push them around, but women in uniform know how to stand their ground against efforts at manipulation, she said.
Reid said she suspects the police world will always be male-dominated, but it’s a world in which women can feel comfortable and respected.
Since she earned her criminal justice degree in 1993, the perception of women in uniform — and the number of women wearing those uniforms — has changed dramatically, Reid said.
“It’s not rare anymore,” she said. “We’re finally being seen as legit law enforcement officers.”
Julie Riddle can be reached at 989-358-5693, firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @jriddleX.
By the numbers
Number of female road patrol officers at Northeast Michigan police agencies.
Alpena Police Department: 2
Alpena County Sheriff’s Office: 3
Alcona County Sheriff’s Office: 1
Montmorency County Sheriff’s Office: 2
Presque Isle County Sheriff’s Office: 0
Rogers City Police Department: 0
Michigan State Police-Alpena Post: 2
Source: Local police agencies