Women have been serving on America’s police forces in increasing numbers since the beginning of the 20th century, but the number of female officers remains small. According to the National Center for Women and Policing, women account for only 13 percent of police officers across the country and 17 percent of the Gadsden County Sheriff’s Office’s law enforcement officers.
Gadsden County employs seven women and 35 men in law enforcement. Those numbers do not include corrections officers.
“It’s a male dominated profession and always has been,” said Sgt. Anglie Holmes Hightower, who is the assistant chief investigator and public information officer for the Gadsden County Sheriff’s Office. ‟I don’t expect there will ever be equal numbers of men and women.”
Grandmother is kind – and a cop
Deputy Laura Smith is a grandmother of two. She has nearly three years’ service with the Sheriff’s Office and spent years as a state trooper.
“I love it,” she said of her work as a deputy. Smith is 5’6” and 150 pounds. Her gun belt weighs 60 pounds, and her steel-plated Kevlar vest adds another 15. She has a soft, kind face, but eyes of golden-brown that seem to not only see all, but through all.
Once, while answering a dispatch to arrest a man who was a repeat trespasser at a local retail store, the man decided to put on a performance for the other men standing outside the store. Smith played along; the charmer and the charmed, until she coaxed him into the backseat, his pockets empty, and the doors locked.
“Where you takin’ me, purty?” he asked.
“To jail,” she said from the front seat. (We can’t publish his response.)
Sometimes, police must be tough, but often something different is needed.
“The majority of our time,” said Hightower, “is spent resolving problems for people during a crisis.”
Community policing, a strategy of policing that focuses on building ties and working closely with members of the community to help identify and solve problems, requires police to sometimes be social workers as well.
Smith decided to become a law enforcement officer after a rise in crime in Gadsden County, where she was born and raised. She said community policing works.
“The problems, of course, start at home, but we can help. We started by educating kids out on the street because that’s where they’re at. If they’re playing on the basketball court, we stop, play basketball and talk with them. Sometimes we go to the games to support them. Once you get to know people, they start telling you more than you know. When the kids know something is on, they can relate it to you,” she said.
Holmes Hightower mentors younger and less experienced women officers coming up in the ranks and is the disciplinarian in her home.
“My husband defers the discipline of our two sons to me,” she said. “I’m firm and consistent with them, so they know they can’t get away with misbehaving.”
With 28 years’ experience in law enforcement, Holmes Hightower is a trailblazer in the community.
She was the first African-American woman to join the Quincy Police Department. She intends to become the first African-American female Sheriff of Gadsden.
Smith thinks she will succeed.
“We women in the county have always known Anglie as a police officer. We don’t have many women to look up to in this profession, not someone we can actually touch,” Smith said.
“I thank her all the time,” said current Gadsden County Sheriff Morris Young.
Young said he likes having officers like Holmes Hightower and Smith on the force.
“It’s definitely a benefit to hire women, particularly those who are mothers. They bring the stamina that mothering requires,” he said.
Holmes Hightower is currently working on her memoir and said putting her experiences on paper is “a release.”
As it is for most police officers, Holmes Hightower said her aim when she leaves her home in the morning is to get back there that evening. She and Smith both said they lean on their faith to feel safe in a dangerous job.
“I always advise,” said Holmes Hightower, “first and foremost, you must keep yourself safe. But, me, I’m a Christian. I walk by faith, not by sight. God has given me this calling, so I expect him to protect me. I take the Lord with me.”