A week and a half after she joined the Bangor Police Department, Catherine Rumsey found herself at a pretty nasty fight in the Capehart neighborhood.
“I jumped right in and helped tackle the guy. The officer I was working with put the cuffs on him and immediately looked up at me and said, ‘I think I’m OK with you.’ I guess I had proven myself just a bit,” she said with a chuckle this week.
Earlier this week it was announced that Rumsey had been promoted to the rank of lieutenant with the Bangor Police Department. She is the first woman in the department’s history to hold that rank.
I’m not sure if I’m prouder of her for a job well done or Police Chief Mark Hathaway for seeing fit to promote her.
While not one to take herself too seriously, Rumsey is aware that this promotion is a big deal, not just for her but for women in law enforcement everywhere.
Women make up only about 12 percent of the sworn police officers in the United States, according to FBI data from 2011, and fewer hold leadership positions in those departments.
But things may be changing.
Julia Pierson now heads up the Secret Service, Valerie Parlave is the assistant director at the FBI, Avril Haines is the deputy director at the CIA, Michele Leonhart is director of the DEA and Stacia Hylton is head of the U.S. Marshals Service.
And all across the country, law enforcement leaders are starting to woo the ladies.
It’s a good thing because they need them.
Departments everywhere, including in Bangor, are experiencing staff shortages and finding it increasingly difficult to find qualified applicants to fill an ever-growing number of vacancies stemming from military deployments and retirements.
Just last February, Hathaway told this paper that his department was down 10 positions, with officers having to work overtime to fill the gaps. The recruitment process was looking rather dismal, he said.
Maine State Police face a similar situation, according to Lt. David Tripp, the training and special services commander.
So let the wooing commence.
While women have broken into the ranks of law enforcement, their rate of promotion still remains very low, according to the National Association of Women in Law Enforcement.
And the ladies, of course, are smart. The work is hard, the hours are long, the pay is only so-so, the shifts include nights, weekends and holidays, and of course there is the danger factor. If there is little chance of advancement one can understand the hesitancy to sign on.
During a conversation this week, Rumsey said she never had experienced any form of harassment from her male counterparts.
“Most of them treat me like a little sister or a daughter. They look out for me, sure, but we all look out for each other all of the time. It’s part of the job,” she said.
She does acknowledge that she may handle certain situations a bit differently than her male co-workers.
“Certain cases, such as an injured child or a domestic violence call, sometimes affect me differently I suppose. For example after a tough case I like to talk about it. Talk it out. The guys don’t always want to do that,” she said and then laughed, “Most of them, however, have accepted that about me and so we talk.”
Rumsey is a self-proclaimed military brat and moved around the country as a child. She graduated from high school in Minot, N.D., and went to college there with plans to be a teacher. On “a lark” she took a corrections course and changed her own life course.
She worked at the Minot Police Department and then her parents moved to Maine.
Her mother is from Bangor and met Rumsey’s father while he was stationed at the former Dow Air Force Base.
After three years as a patrol officer in Minot, Rumsey joined her family in Maine, getting a job with the University of Maine Police Department, where she worked until joining the Bangor department in 1996.
“There is a need for more female officers for a variety of reasons. Some people feel more comfortable dealing with a female officer, especially when it involves domestic violence and sexual assault,” she said.
Of course you also need to be willing to jump into a bar fight on occasion, which she has done. She once had two of her fingers broken in such an altercation.
There are two other women on the Bangor police force and Rumsey hopes she can serve as a mentor to them and other women thinking of becoming police officers.
“Your police department should reflect your community and women are of course a big part of any community,” she said.
They are and certainly in our community many of them are leaders. It’s nice to add Rumsey to their ranks.
You can reach Renee Ordway at firstname.lastname@example.org.