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.

April Gaines
Deputy Sheriff

I started out as a Detentions Deputy in 1995. I was in the 22nd Corrections Academy. I worked at East Mesa Detention Facility (EMDF), and about a year and a half later, I went through the 36th Regional Law Enforcement Academy. From there I was assigned to the Las Colinas Detention Facility (LCDF). I was assigned to the Lemon Grove Station in February of 2001, after working at Las Colinas. While assigned to Lemon Grove I worked in patrol and additionally was a Training Officer and a Corporal. I was a School Resource Officer (SRO) assigned to Mount Miguel High School and I was also assigned to the Gang Suppression Team (GST). I eventually was selected as an Area Detectives in 2007, at the Lemon Grove Station. In August of 2012, I was assigned to Personnel where I am currently a Background Investigator.

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

I was interested in Law Enforcement since childhood, and seeing women in uniform, enforcing the law was also intriguing. Thinking of my future and what opportunities this department had to offer was also instrumental in why I chose this profession and this particular agency. I played sports throughout grade school and high school and that team concept seemed to resonate throughout the Sheriff’s Department. The challenge of an academy and the reward of the career motivated me to pursue a career in Law Enforcement.

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

It was a challenge being one of three females in patrol when I initially went to the Lemon Grove Station. I wanted to gain the respect of my male peers and worked hard to demonstrate my dedication and capabilities. I did not want my capabilities or work ethic to be second guessed or questioned because of being a woman. The word “reputation” is priceless in this profession. It is something that only you can build and make the best by your actions, work ethic and what you bring to the department as an individual. I pride myself on having and preserving a very good reputation with the Sheriff’s Department.

What advice can you give to women to overcome these same challenges?

I think it’s important that you are real with yourself and your capabilities. If this is the career that you have chosen, don’t let any obstacles stop you from being a Deputy Sheriff your ultimate goal. Remember to hold yourself personally accountable for your actions and aspire to have a solid reputation throughout your career.

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 didn’t have children when I started on the department, so my parents were obviously concerned because their daughter wanted to pursue a career in Law Enforcement considering the dangers and challenges of the job. After having children, it became the fact that now I’m a mother, so of course, my daily goal was and is to return home safely to my family. So, they were concerned with that aspect that now I’m a mom and have children that depend on me.

After attending the academy, I believe it made them feel more confident that I had the necessary training and the tools that I needed to deal with situations I would come across during my shifts. It ultimately made them more comfortable with my abilities as a deputy.

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

In my career, I think times have definitely changed from when I came on this department in 1995. When I came on, it was unheard of for deputies that had 1, 2, or 3 years in patrol to even consider anything specialized or even Training Officer. It was always, “you need to put in a lot of time,” so I had big gaps of time between the different things that I did because that was just what you were “supposed” to do. These were “unspoken steps” in the process to get into a specialized unit or assignment. So, it took longer for deputies back then to obtain a specialized position. Today deputies are moving very fast as far as obtaining specialized positions, promotions, etc. So, for me, if I could have change something in my career, I would have pursued career opportunities sooner.

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

I think some women aren’t informed enough about the job, and feel like the physical aspect may be beyond their limitations. I think the dangers of the job play a role as well. Reliable child care, balancing a family, single parenting, and shift work come into play when making a decision of this magnitude. I think physically women think it’s something outside of their limitations without knowing exactly what is expected. I believe if women had more opportunities to speak to women in Law Enforcement, and get realistic feedback, they would be more confident in choosing this career. When I am out in uniform women approach me and tell how happy they are to see a woman in uniform and want to talk about their possibilities in law enforcement. You can see them get motivated, and they turn the, “do I want to” into “I can do this.” So, I think if women are equipped with information, and the accessibility of talking to women in law enforcement, they would pursue the thought instead of feeling so reserved.

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

I had a very supportive family, and the proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child” comes to mind, because my family helped me tremendously through many night shifts, and 12.5 hours work days. As a single mother working night shift, coming home and staying up so I could take the kids to school, sleeping while they were at school, waking back up, spending time with them when they got out of school and then going back to work was tough. It was well worth the sacrifice looking back at it now, but you definitely need a support system. No matter whom it is, family, friends or co-workers you need support system doing this job.

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

I would definitely say that you must have a reliable source of child care. You have to, for this to be an achievable goal. The last thing you want to do is be mentally absent at work because you are worrying about the flexibility and reliability of your baby sitter. You may have a 12.5 hour shift that can very likely turn into 16 hours or more, and you need to have someone that’s flexible and dependable to take care of your child. I think once that facet has been resolved, being a single mom isn’t that difficult on this department. You will face challenges in your career but they aren’t anything you cannot overcome. You will make many connections in this department that will last a lifetime. There are many women that have walked the same path that can help provide guidance such as myself. There are many single mothers on this department that overcome obstacles and led/lead very rewarding careers. These same women (including myself) have endured the same experiences and have the ability to provide insight on how they dealt with their past experiences.

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

I would definitely emphasize the importance of starting a physical fitness program the minute you even think of joining the department. Don’t wait until you pass the test, or go to an orientation. I can say that I thought I was prepared and in good physical shape until I got to the academy and then it was a wakeup call. I definitely would say you need to start some sort of physical conditioning when you make the decision to apply, and stay on it. Now we have voluntary workouts which are something we didn’t have when I came on the department. This is something that is offered to candidates that are in the process as another tool to help prepare for an academy. If you are doing your own fitness program and also incorporating the voluntary workouts, then you will be fine at the academy. You just have to make a plan and stick to it.

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?

The Detentions Academy was very hard, and physically challenging. I was not prepared for the “para-military” portion of the academy. I was never in the military so I didn’t know anything about that. That was very different for me, but definitely the physical aspect of it was very challenging. I am in no way, shape or form an avid runner. So running distances was a challenge in both Detentions and Law Enforcement Academies. I went as far as running with an academy mate Tanya Creer on weekends to try to better myself. I would describe her as my running tutor. After attending the Detentions academy I knew what to expect and how to prepare for the Law Enforcement academy. Running is still a very big part of the curriculum. So it is very challenging for those people that aren’t runners. But it is definitely something that can be overcome with practice. My mantra is “Practice makes progress.”

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

When I look at my career, one of my most memorable experiences would be taking all of my on the job experience and now, being able to share that with candidates that are going through the backgrounds process. I feel well rounded in my career. Although I am missing the aspect of working the courts bureau, I feel like I have a good grasp on detentions, patrol and investigations. The ability to see the development of candidates that range from students in college looking for a career to assisting a person make a career change is quite an experience. It’s very gratifying to have a hand in shaping the departments future.

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?

The Sheriff’s Department has so much to offer, no matter what you want to do, in Detentions, Court Services, or Law Enforcement. The mentality of “never giving up” is what you must have. Do we as women have to prove ourselves? Yes, but it’s not necessarily proving yourself as a woman, it’s proving your capabilities. People will depend on you for help and it doesn’t matter what gender the Deputy is that responds, we all wear the same badge. Knowing that you can do the job, meeting the physical demands and being a proficient trust worthy partner, is what matters. At the end of our shifts, we as a collective department male and female want the same end result and that is to go home safely to our families. The camaraderie in this department is amazing. The friendships and relationships you make during your career are priceless and it really becomes your second family. This will be the best career ever once you commit to making that step.

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