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.

Erika Frierson
Detentions Captain

I’ve been with the department over 17 years, this July will be my 18th year. I started my career as a Detentions Deputy at Las Colinas Detention Facility (LCDF). I worked there for about 8½ years. While assigned to LCDF, I worked several specialized assignments there. I was a Training Officer, Corporal, Inmate Worker Deputy, and I also worked as the Facility Training Coordinator. After LCDF, I went to San Diego Central Jail (SDCJ) as a Classification Deputy. Shortly after that, I was promoted to Sergeant and was assigned to the George Bailey Detention Facility (GBDF). There, I was a Team Training Sergeant, and eventually became the Facility Training Sergeant, followed by the Administrative Sergeant. About 3½ years later, I was selected to be the Career Path Sergeant and assigned to the Personnel Division. I was there for about a year, and then promoted to Lieutenant and assigned to the Vista Detention Facility (VDF). A year later, I was transferred back to LCDF, and then asked to oversee the Jail Population Management Unit (JPMU) and Detentions Investigation Unit (DIU). About a year and a half later, I was assigned to work in the Detention Support Division working with command staff. About a year later, I was assigned to VDF as an Acting Captain. Six months later, I was promoted to the rank of Captain. I’ve been at VDF now for a year and 5 months and love my career. I have loved every single day of this job, and my career goals are to continue to move up to the rank of Commander.

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

I started my career in Law Enforcement at the young age of 21. My daughter was 2 years old and I was already taking Criminal Justice classes at the college in my home town. I remember seeing a recruiting flyer for the San Diego Sheriff’s Department and decided to apply. I had always wanted to give back to my community and help in providing a safe environment for my daughter to grow up in. I felt like a job in Law Enforcement would allow me to do just that. I also wanted to have a job that my daughter would be proud of me and to be able to financially give her everything my parents provided for me and also things they couldn’t give me.

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

I think early on, one of my first struggles was probably finding child care for my daughter while I worked my new long work shifts. Once you graduate from the academy and get assigned to one of the facilities, you’re working the 12½ hour shifts and that was a bit of a struggle. Other than the early on struggles of child care, I think my career has been very positive and I really haven’t had too many struggles to talk about.

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?

I would say my friends were very supportive from the beginning. My friends always knew that I was pretty competitive and I used to always say I could do anything that a man could do. My parents weren’t very supportive of my career early on. They actually wanted me to be a teacher or a counselor. I think it was out of fear; they were afraid that I was going to get hurt. Specifically my dad, because he would always tell me I wasn’t strong enough to be a deputy, and that only men should be doing that job. It wasn’t until I graduated from the academy, that I think they accepted the fact that I was able to do this job as a female, and do the same thing that my male counterparts did in the academy. But they were still a little hesitant, and they didn’t feel safe with me until 2 or 3 years later when they saw me doing more specialized assignments, and they could see how happy I was.

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

I wouldn’t change a thing. I love my career, like I said before, from day one. I’ve had a very positive experience and I love what I do.

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

I think women tend to stay away from this career just because of the fear that they may not be strong enough or that they can’t do what a man does. For some of them, it may be the fact that they don’t think they can raise a family doing this type of work and the schedules that we work. Like I said earlier, I think that’s just a misconception. I really think shift work is better suited for a family than your traditional Monday through Friday. When you are off for that many days, you can actually volunteer at school and do more things with your kids than when you work Monday through Friday 8-5.

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

I think for me personally, shift work has been something my family has really appreciated. Even though it’s long hours, and of course we work nights and weekends. I think for my family, especially after raising three kids in my family, have all learned that the five days off is more rewarding than having a traditional "Monday through Friday." So my kids grew up feeling like every five days was a vacation, especially when they were out of school. Even to this day, my kids would rather me work shift work than the Monday through Friday schedule that I now have as a Captain. As far as extended family and friends, they also knew once I had a set schedule, they knew exactly what weekend I was off, so we could plan family events on my days off and we could celebrate holidays accordingly. So, the holidays, weekends and nights weren’t really an issue because we were able to plan events ahead of time.

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

I think that proper training ahead of time, before starting the actual academy, is important. I know that now we are doing some physical training classes with future cadets. I think that will help any female candidate. Yes, it is a lot of work and a lot of running but its nothing that can’t be done. So, I think just proper conditioning prior to the academy.

How was the academy for you when you joined the department? What were your struggles, and weaknesses? What were your strengths? How would you compare your academy to the one the Sheriff’s Department currently runs?

I think my only struggle when I was in the academy was the firearms portion. It was only the first few days of firearms training, and that was because I had never been around weapons before. I think that with the instructors and the dedication of the academy staff, I was quickly able to overcome that. As far as the physical struggles, I think just like with most females, doing pull-ups was just something I couldn’t do, even with all of the dedication of our academy instructors. Even after my last five point test, I wasn’t able to do 1 pull-up, but it’s ok because I made up with the sit-ups and the push-ups. I think the academy nowadays is a little bit more relaxed than it was when I went through even though my academy was a shorter academy. There were a lot more physical demands, where now, they are doing a lot more physical weight training, cross-fit and yoga. So, I didn’t get to experience any of that. Ours was just running, push-ups, sit-ups and pull-ups. However, I think the academy nowadays is suited to meet the needs of more people and their physical abilities.

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

I consider my biggest accomplishment was being promoted to the rank of Captain, and especially with only having 17 years on the department. My most memorable experience will always be my one year spent working in Personnel, helping people prepare for job interviews, and helping people with resumes, and career advice. I still remember people I helped transition from either Detentions to Law Enforcement, or people that would come in thinking they wanted to quit and I would encourage them go back to work and try it again. Those people are some of the ones that consider me like their guardian angel for not allowing them to give up on themselves. So for me, that was very touching.

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 think it would depend on the stage of their life that they’re currently in. For example, if they’re women that are already married, established and already have grown kids, my advice is to have fun because at that point they already have an established life. If it’s geared towards younger people that are probably not even married, or have yet to start their families, then my advice for them would be to prepare themselves for when they do get married and do start to have a family. So that way they’re mentally prepared and they can have everything ready for when they do have a family. Especially when they start to have their kids, their child care issues can be taken care of so that they aren’t stressing out at the last minute trying to find day care while working 12½ hour shifts.


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