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On the beat

number of local female police officers far exceeds national average

by: ANNEMARIE KNEPPER/pCENTRAL OREGONIAN - Prineville Police Department Officer Doug Cooper with Officer Kathryn Sampson during a traffic stop last week.

It's one of those jobs where you look forward to going to work every day," said Prineville police officer JoAnn Bauer. "You can't always make everybody happy but when you get somebody's stolen property back for them, or you save somebody from a domestic situation or a child abuse situation, those are the rewards."
   The sentiment was echoed by each of the five female officers at the Prineville Police Department. The quintet has undergone a variety of experiences as women officers of the law in a rural community, but one thing remains constant, this is the job of their dreams.
   In 2001, women made up 12.7 percent of all sworn law enforcement positions in large agencies, according to a 2003 report by the National Center for Women and Policing.
   In small and rural agencies, that number was 8.1 percent.
   At the Prineville Police Department, five out of the 18 sworn officers are women, or 27.7 percent.
   At 25, Kathryn Sampson is the youngest of the group. She has been with the Prineville PD for just more than a year.
   "After doing this job I couldn't see myself in any other job," Sampson said. "I couldn't sit at a desk for eight or 10 hours."
   She said working with the public and putting the bad guys away are her favorite aspects of the job.
   Sampson was one of only four women in her police academy class of 32. She said she sometimes got an uncomfortable vibe from some of her male classmates but has had nothing but positive experiences with her male coworkers in the Prineville PD.
   "I can kick anybody's butt as well as any guy can," she said with a laugh. "If I can't do my job as well as the next guy, I probably shouldn't be doing it."
   Sampson said she always wanted an older brother and, "Now it's like I have a whole bunch of older brothers. We treat each other like family."
   It is that family atmosphere, and unfaltering support from their peers and superiors that set this job apart for many of the officers.
   "Our captain and our chief believe everyone has something to offer," said patrol officer Laura Nelson. "Each person has special skills and they are all valued equally."
   Starting in dispatch, Nelson has been with the Prineville PD since October 2003. She is also the high school resource officer.
   Nelson said she has never experienced discrimination for being a female police officer, but feels a certain intangible need to put out a little extra effort to make sure people respect and feel comfortable with her.
   "Personally, I feel like there is always a little bit of added pressure," she said. She said most departments are excited to have qualified women officers and she never feels like she is filling a quota. "Most departments want females on board," she said.
   And the job has a lot to offer.
   Nelson said she particularly enjoys the challenging nature of her job. "You can push yourself to be specialized or skilled in any area," she said. "You can go as far as you want to go."
   Administrative Sergeant Andrea Vaughn was one of the first women on patrol at the Prineville Police Department.
   She said when she first started 12 years ago, one person wouldn't roll down their car window after she had pulled them over. "They told me they wanted a `real' police officer.
   "Prineville has changed a lot since '94," Vaughn said. She added she has been treated "great" by the majority of the community.
   "I love this town. People have been very good to us," said Vaughn, whose husband Scott is an Oregon state trooper.
   She said working in a small department has been rewarding.
   "I've had the ability to do a lot more and learn a lot more things than I would be able to in a larger agency," she said. "I've been able to be involved in every type of investigation from start to finish."
   She said the community support Prineville provides is impressive.
   "We have a very supportive public," she said. "Some agencies aren't that lucky."
   Officer Dawn Jordan's area, community policing, lets her interact on a positive level with the community every day. She said enforcing ordinances often allows her to help people that may not be able to help themselves, such as the elderly.
   As many officers have, Jordan began as a reserve officer. She started with the Prineville DARE program in 1998 and became ordinance officer in 2004.
   Though she went to school to become a teacher, after several exciting police ride-alongs with her then husband, Jordan decided to attend the police academy.
   "It's fast to a full-time career," she said.
   JoAnn Bauer was working at Ochoco Lumber when concern about the timber industry led her to become a reserve officer in 1999. In 2000 she became a school resource officer during the school year and bicycle patrol officer in the summer time.
   She has regular patrol duties now and enjoys training new officers. Her passion is mounted patrol, or what she describes as "the fun stuff."
   She said she has yet to run into any challenges specific to being a woman in law enforcement.
   "I probably entered at a time when it was easier for women to get into it," Bauer said. "There are no `women' or `men.' We are all police officers and we all do the same job."
   Vaughn agreed.
   "We all do the same job," she said. "To me this is a story about law enforcement."
   The story is one of challenge, variety, support and above all else, justice.
   "It was a really long process but well worth it," Sampson said of being hired at the Prineville Police Department. "This is the coolest job ever."
   Crook County Sheriffs Office seeking women deputies
   At this time, there are no female patrol deputies at the Crook County Sheriff's Office.
   "We are currently conducting a background investigation for a female applicant," Undersheriff Jim Hensley said. "This weekend we are going to be testing 12 (applicants) and out of those 12, at least three are female."
   Hensley said the CCSO has been trying actively to recruit female deputies. He said about a year and a half ago, the office offered a corrections deputy position to a woman who came in first in the applicant process, but she chose to take a job elsewhere.
   "It just didn't work out," Hensley said. "But we are trying."