Women in Law Enforcement

Tell us a little about yourself (how long you have been on) and what you have done in your career with the Sheriff’s Department.

Patricia Duke
Assistant Sheriff (Ret.)

I’ve been on for 30 years, and I’ve had an amazing career. I’m closing in on the end of my career, so it’s kind of exciting to be able to share my story with the new people coming in. I am the Assistant Sheriff, in charge of Law Enforcement, and I am the first female that has held this position. There has been other Assistant Sheriff’s in Law Enforcement but there hasn’t been another female, so I feel very honored and privileged to hold this position.

I started out in the jail, the San Diego Old Central Jail, so the whole saying goes, "If you have never worked the Old Central Jail, then you have never worked a jail." There might be some truth to that. I have an interesting career because I left the jail after working there a couple of years, and went over to the Marshal’s Office. So I moved over there and I had a great career over there as well. I worked in the courts, and field services, and I was fortunate enough to work in the Fugitive Task Force and I did that for several years. So, that gave me a real taste of working with other agencies, and being cross sworn and really going after the "bad guys." At the merger in 1999, I came back over to the Sheriff’s, so it’s sort of interesting, and a lot of things happened over that time. I got married and divorced, and was a single mom of 3 children. I promoted to a Sergeant at the Marshal’s Office, so when we merged I was a Sergeant over here. I immediately went to Patrol, and said if I’m going to be a Sheriff, I need to go out and do what Sheriff’s do. They asked who wanted to go to Patrol, and I was the first hand that went up.

I was a Sergeant at the Lemon Grove Station, and it was amazing watching "the boots" on the ground do the job every day, and being fortunate enough and privileged to lead them. I learned a lot about leadership, especially since I had been away from it, and had to come back in. I had a lot of mentors, actually, subordinate mentors; Corporals that I went to, because I had been away for a while, and I’m thinking we have this scene and I’m asking if we are missing anything, etc. From there I went to Internal Affairs (IA), worked there for a couple of years, and then promoted to Lieutenant. I went to Las Colinas Detention Facility (LCDF) and worked a year there until I went to the courts to do some leadership there. They had an escape and they wanted to put some experience back in there.

I then promoted to Captain, and worked courts for a little while longer, and then went to be a Captain of the Santee Patrol Station. The Captain of a station is like the Chief of Police for that community, and that’s probably the highlight of my career. We did some really neat things for the community. I got really close with the community and government to try and provide a really safe community. From there I got promoted to Commander. As Commander, I came to the third floor and had responsibilities for some patrol stations, the Crime Lab, ASTREA, Bomb Arson, and Special Investigations and again, what a privilege.

The folks that do that kind of work are just amazing. I then got promoted to Assistant Sheriff, and the Sheriff appointed me to this position. So, as you can say, I’ve had an amazing, blessed and incredible career. I remember having this cool assignment as the military liaison and I went aboard all of the military installations in San Diego County, which as you know, we are a military community. I would serve civil papers, or give some education presentations on drunk driving, and they flew me aboard the USS Constellation that was coming back from a deployment. They flew me aboard so I could meet with the Jag Officer there, so I spent the night in a State Room and I came back in and said, "Whoa! Who am I?" How cool is that? I still have the picture of the plane that I flew in. So, I have truly had an amazing career.

What made you want to get into a career in Law Enforcement?

It wasn’t something that I said as a little child, "I want to be a Police lady," and it sort of fell in my lap. I was going to college, and I think a lot of folks that are in college don’t really know what they want to do and I was one of those. I knew I liked being around people and I knew I had a skill set to work well with others and I liked excitement to a certain extent. I wanted to be involved, so I thought I wanted to go into social work or maybe probation. So, I was going to school and the announcement opened that the Sheriff’s Department and a good friend of mine said, "You need to apply!" I said I don’t know if it’s for me, and he brought me the application and I filled it out. Then low and behold, I get the call, and I was like, "What?!" they told me to report to Central Jail, B Shift, so I worked the jail a little bit before I actually went to the academy, so it was a little backwards. So, it just kind of happened and everything fell into place.

What struggles did you have to face during your career with the Sheriff’s Department?

You know, I saw this question and I don’t think I had any struggles. I think I had some challenges. Challenge is probably a better word. Going to an academy was challenging, but it’s what you do with those challenges and how you grow from it. The academy is very much focused. It’s focused academically, and very focused physically, and it was a challenge to balance that. Physically it was tough, but it made me want to do it more. I knew that I was weaker in my upper body, and so I thought, what could I do, to mitigate that? I started doing push-ups, and I was doing push-ups 24 hour s a day, it seemed like, and I would get up in the morning and do push-ups. In the afternoon, I would do more push-ups and it made me stronger, and there was pride in that. In the academy, there would be testing and the first part of that I would do about 10, and the second time I would do 20. Then I ended up breaking the record and did 60. I did 60, and I loved that challenge. It was very challenging. The running was hard, I wasn’t the fastest. Short distance wasn’t that bad, but the long distance was difficult. On my time off, on the weekend, I trained, but I have to say that it made me better, because it was what I did with those challenges that made me successful. Then they used me for a recruit poster after graduation.

What concerns did your family and friends have with you becoming a Deputy Sheriff and did their concerns change after successful completion of your training?

My family was very supportive, and my friends were too, but it is different. I wasn’t the first in my family to go into a field like this, and to be quite honest, I don’t have family that has followed me. I think folks were excited, because it is an exciting career, and there are a lot of very exciting stories. People are enamored by the stories you might have, but I don’t think there were really any concerns. I think a lot of my female friends (from college and stuff) a lot of their concerns were, "What if you get into a fight? How would you handle yourself if a big guy tells you no and you have to put handcuffs on him?" Before I even went onto Law Enforcement, you tend to think about that, but then you realize when you are in the academy that they are training me really well. I don’t have to be the big brawn guy, I don’t have to be him to be successful and I’m going to use my verbal skills. I’m going to use my other skills that I have learned in the academy, to diffuse the situation. The first time you start doing that, and you are successful at it, you think wow, you don’t have to be big and brawn. You could be small, of course you have to be strong, and you have to be in shape, and I’m not discounting that, because you do. Those that don’t choose to do that, shame on them. But it isn’t a career where you have to be the biggest, and the baddest, or strongest at all.

If you had the opportunity to change anything within your career, what would it be and why?

To be quite honest with you, I wouldn’t have changed one thing. It’s been amazing, so I wouldn’t change one thing. You know, as a supervisor, there may have been some personnel issues, and of course I don’t like that because some of them are tough. If I didn’t have to do that, then I would have been ok with that, but it made me stronger, and made me better. It made me respect the department more, so no, nothing I would have changed nothing in my career.

What are your views on why more women are not choosing a career in Law Enforcement?

I think there is a misnomer out there, and I think folks think it is too scary and they focus in on the baddest of the bad. Really, when we go to work, it’s not that bad. There’s a piece of that, no doubt, but there’s also a lot of good folks, and a lot of good community members that you are touching. Youth, families, etc. Yes, you have the bad people that need to go to jail but it’s bigger than that. I think that folks are focusing on the "TV" part, and it’s not that at all. There are dangers to the job, but there’s also a bigger part of what we do such as being a part of the community, being a Deputy Sheriff out there, going to the schools and talking to the kids about safety or helping a family that needs resources. Making a difference is a huge part of what we do.

How did you balance the scale between family life and shift work?

For family life, I was a single mom of three children but I think balancing is always a challenge. It doesn’t matter if its shift work, or Monday through Friday 8 to 5, it’s what you do with it. It’s really about the systems that you put into place to litigate the challenges of working. I had a live in baby sitter, and paid a little extra so I had that comfort. I had them live in my home, so they were a part of my children’s youth. I have a supportive family, so if my children were sick, I didn’t always have to stay home and my mom, dad and sisters would come over.

What advice do you have for single mothers that are hesitant to join the Sheriff’s Department due to their parenting concerns?

If they are hesitant, I think they should reconsider if they’re using that as an obstacle because it really works. You can make it work. If you work in Detentions, the shifts are amazing. 5 on, 5 off, 2 on, 2 off. If you’re talking about being able to be with your family more, then that would be the shift for you. So I would tell women to really reconsider and look at that.

What about women that are highly concerned with their physical fitness level? How did you cope with the academy physical fitness requirements?

You have to be prepared. The bottom line is that you can’t go into an academy or any work type of setting without being prepared. The academy has minimum standards that we have to meet and my advice to you is not to discount that, and prepare yourself. You don’t want to be that person that wasn’t prepared, so run, do push-ups, lift some weights, run some more, lift some more weights, do a few more push-ups. It’s not that hard, and in fact, it’s rewarding to see yourself get stronger.

What would you consider your biggest accomplishment or most memorable experience while working for the Sheriff’s Department?

There’s been so many, but I can’t discount the position that I hold today. Being an Assistant Sheriff, in charge of the Law Enforcement Services for the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department, will forever be a privilege and honor to hold a position and to lead all the folks that do the work every single day. Probably when I got the call from the Sheriff and appointing me (since this is an appointed position), and then placing me in this role that’s never been filled by a female, was the most memorable, but there’s been so many that I hate to just highlight one.

If you had an opportunity to speak to women that were considering joining the Sheriff’s Department, what would be the most important advice you would give them?

I would say if you are that person that likes excitement, that embraces the challenges, that wants to go to work and doesn’t know what the day is going to bring, you like people, and you care about community, I would say do it. You are going to love it. It’s amazing, rewarding, challenging, exciting, and there are so many huge opportunities.

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