The driver pulls off to the side of the road after catching a glimpse of the red and blue flashing lights in the rearview mirror. As the officer approaches, the driver turns and says, “Sorry, sir,” only to have to apologize after realizing a female officer made the traffic stop.
It is no longer unusual to find a woman’s name on the roster of police departments in Washington County, in what is a male-dominated profession. The women here who carry a badge are among the growing number of females who are police officers. FBI statistics for 2013 show in communities with a population of fewer than 10,000, female officers make up about 21 percent of the police force. A study by the Bureau of Justice had the percentage of female officers ranging from about six to eight percent, depending on the size of the force.
An encounter with a female officer would not be unusual for anyone in the northwestern area of the county. Amanda Brewer is a full-time officer in Mt. Pleasant Township and works part time in Hanover Township. Maria Cuccaro and Kelly Davis work part time, Cuccaro with Mt. Pleasant and Davis in Smith Township. The three, who are also friends, work for Hanover during the concert season at KeyBank Pavilion.
Brewer said she was always interested in becoming a police officer, getting a two-year degree from Community College of Allegheny County before going to the police academy at Indiana University of Pennsylvania.
Becoming a police officer was not the plan for either Cuccaro or Davis. Cuccaro went to Slippery Rock University to become a teacher, before deciding that was not for her and transferring to CCAC and ending up in the police academy at Beaver County Community College. Davis considered nursing as a career before opting instead to go to the police academy.
While Brewer and Cuccaro are the first police officers in their families, Davis’ grandfather was a member of the Allegheny County Police Department’s mounted patrol unit. Another family member is a lawyer.
When they attended the police academy, females were in the minority. Brewer said there were three in her class of 18, while there were six out of 23 in Davis’ class and five out of 21 in Cuccaro’s group.
When the three are on duty at the same time, they keep an ear on the radio transmissions.
“Both departments usually just have one officer on duty, so we back each other up,” Brewer said. “We rely on each other.”
Davis said when she hears one of the others getting a call, she heads in that direction.
All three agree being a woman is not a deterrent to being able to physically do the job. Brewer agrees the qualifications should be the same, regardless of gender.
“I have wrestled with guys three times my size,” Brewer said. “Some may expect us to back down, but we don’t.”
“When I was in the academy, I would want to fight against the guys,” Cuccaro said.
Davis also did.
“I’d kick them in the back of the knee to knock their legs out from under them,” she said.
All three say their families have been very supportive of their decisions to become police officers.
When Cassie Campsey first became a police officer 17 years ago, she was one of just a few. Campsey worked as a police officer for 7 ½ years in Greensboro, N.C. She moved back to her native Washington County so she could be closer to home. She was a part-time officer in South Strabane Township for about 15 months before getting a full-time position with Cecil Township about 8 ½ years ago.
As a single mother, Campsey faces the challenge of balancing motherhood with her job.
“I couldn’t do it without help from my family and a part-time baby-sitter,” Campsey said. “I work long hours, but I like our schedule because we end up getting more days off, including every other weekend.”
She tries to plan special activities to do with her daughter during her time off, like going to a water park or going away for a few days.
“I am definitely happy doing this, it suits me,” she said of her job. “And I work in a great township and for a great department.”
Campsey said she and other female officers tend to be more empathetic when dealing with people.
Ashley Price has always wanted to do something to serve her community and country. Her mother was not wild about a career in the military, so Price went to Penn State, starting out at the Behrend campus before moving on to the main campus, where she finished her degree with a dual major in administration of justice and Spanish. She joined the Canonsburg police department in 2012, before taking a job with Chartiers Township police in May 2015.
“I wanted to make a difference,” she said. “It may seem to be a cliche, but I wanted to catch the bad guy.”
“Everyone treats you well here,” Price said of township residents. “Everybody waves at you, they like the police. Every so often, a man will call me ‘sweetie’ or ‘honey’ when I am out on a call, but that doesn’t bother me because I don’t think they are being disrespectful.”
Price has a good rapport with the men she works with in the department.
“I like everybody I work with, and that’s huge,” she said. “The guys just treat me like one of the guys. It is an honor to be able to do this job.”
Price said in some cases, it helps to be a female.
“Sometimes a victim will ask the male officer to leave because she is more comfortable talking to a woman,” Price said.
Abby France was not sure if she would go to law school or the police academy while a major in political science and pre-law at California University of Pennsylvania. But the thought of having more student loans prompted her to opt for the academy.
“I have always been interested in the law,” said France, who joined the North Strabane Township police department in August after working part time in McDonald. “I had a minor in criminal justice and actually enjoyed those classes the most.
“It is nice that more women are joining law enforcement,” she added.
Like the others, she said being a woman sometimes can be an advantage. France also has found female victims are often more comfortable talking to her if they are a victim of a sexual assault.
“They seem to open up quicker when talking with a woman,” she said.
Andrea Steiner had plans to work as a juvenile probation officer. But after an internship with the Penn Hills police department in Allegheny County, she switched gears and instead went to the police academy. She started her career in 2010 with the Clairton police department before she was hired as an officer in South Strabane Township. That department was one of the first in the county to hire a female in the 1970s.
“I think people are getting used to seeing more female officers,” Steiner said. “I absolutely love my job. I couldn’t see myself doing anything else.”