ALPENA — Women who decide to become cops are not easily scared, says a new young policewoman.
One of 10 female patrollers in the area, Michigan State Police-Alpena Post Trooper Lyndsey Ryba, said she entered the male-dominated profession of law enforcement knowing that ‘she might encounter treatment and expectations that her male counterparts do not.
Her mother, once a paramedic and dispatcher in Montmorency County, told Ryba not to let being a woman stop her from doing the job she wanted to do, Ryba said, patrolling the Alpena County shortly after a day designated in honor of female police officers.
Celebrated annually on September 12, National Police Women’s Day recognizes the contributions of women who, according to FBI data, made up just 13% of full-time law enforcement officers — just 8% in rural counties – in 2019.
In northeast Michigan, about 11% of police officers — plus about 44% of correctional officers — are women.
No local police agency chief is a woman, although a female officer, Capt. Jennifer Johnson, recently took over as commander of MSP’s 7th District, which includes the Alpena Post.
Although they may offer different strengths and face different challenges on the job, police officers, male and female, all fulfill the same role, Ryba said.
“We’re all expected to do the same thing,” she said. “Show up and do the job to the best of your abilities.
“LET ME DO MY THING”
Police work takes on a strong personality, especially for a woman, said Ryba, who grew up in Hillman and moved back to the Alpena area in February to take a job at the station.
The police academy, where soldiers in training are pushed to their limits, gave her the confidence to believe she didn’t have to compete with male officers, Ryba said.
“It makes you realize how capable you are,” she said of the rigorous training. “Which is way more than you thought.”
Inspired to consider a career in law enforcement both by her mother and a friend who is a female Michigan Department of Natural Resources officer, Ryba said her family and friends ask her how she will defend herself against the men who she met on calls.
“There are always people who are going to be bigger, stronger, faster,” she said. But, she said, she relies on her training in defensive tactics to keep her in charge during an aggressive encounter.
“And, if I ever need to, I’m fast,” Ryba smiled.
Although some occasions require female officers to remain professional and even stern, it’s still okay for them to smile, wear earrings and nail polish, and be a girl, she said. .
Being a woman in uniform can mean people assume you need to take charge, the officer said. His mother taught him to stand firm in such situations.
“I get it,” she’ll tell people trying to grab a stage of her own, Ryba said. “I appreciate the help, but let me do my thing.”
Male officers, on the whole, have an advantage over women in terms of strength and speed, said Deputy Michelle Reid, one of three female deputies in the Alpena County Sheriff’s Office.
According to fitness standards issued by the Michigan Commission on Law Enforcement Standards, men must perform at least 28 push-ups to qualify to become an officer, while women should only perform seven.
In a running exercise, a 40-year-old man should finish much faster than a woman in her 20s, according to MCOLES.
When Reid took physical fitness tests early in her career in law enforcement, she demanded to be judged by male standards.
“I didn’t want any special treatment,” she says.
Women in uniform will use physical force if necessary, but they often don’t have to, Reid said.
Policewomen can often avoid physical confrontation because they have strong communication skills and can defuse a sticky situation.
“I’m really good at verbal judo,” Reid said. “It’s my super power.”
When on stage with male officers, Reid has noticed that people naturally gravitate towards her, seeming more comfortable talking to her than with men.
Women and young people who are sometimes silent around a male police officer can open up to a female police officer, sharing important information that will help the police better meet their needs.
Some subjects assume they can overpower policewomen and try to push them around, but women in uniform know how to stand up to manipulative efforts, she said.
Reid said she suspects the world of policing will always be male-dominated, but it’s a world in which women can feel comfortable and respected.
Since earning her criminal justice degree in 1993, the perception of women in uniform — and the number of women wearing those uniforms — has changed dramatically, Reid said.
“It’s not uncommon anymore,” she said. “We are finally seen as legitimate law enforcement officers.”
Julie Riddle can be reached at 989-358-5693, [email protected] or on Twitter @jriddleX.
By the numbers
Number of female highway patrol officers in Northeast Michigan police departments.
Alpena Police: 2
Alpena County Sheriff’s Office: 3
Alcona County Sheriff’s Office: 1
Montmorency County Sheriff’s Office: 2
Almost Isle County Sheriff’s Office: 0
City of Rogers Police Department: 0
Michigan State Police – Alpena Post: 2
Source: Local police services