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of Fame – an honor Latham said was overwhelm- ing.

“It’s always nice to be recognized, and I’m pleased when someone remembers me,” she said shyly. “It’s been a great life and I’ve enjoyed every minute of it.” Her days of carrying a badge and working patrol are over, but Latham is still a familiar face around the Oklahoma City Police Department. The woman with white hair and inquisitive eyes still wears blue and her personality is both that of someone who is guarded and protective all at the same time. Sitting in the police station lobby, her eyes followed offi cers as they moved in and out of the building. Once a cop, always a cop, and Latham said she misses the force.

“She has been an inspiration and a go-getter,” said current female offi cer and friend Terry Ibarra. “She has not ceased to put a little giddy-up and go in her step.”

Following in their Footsteps

As Latham settled in to her busy retirement years in the 1980s, Captain Vashina Butler of the Okla- homa City Police Department had not yet even considered a career in law enforcement. The Hugo native attended college and played softball at the University of Oklahoma where her athletic adviser suggested she consider police work.

“I was a social work major and was going to be a child psychologist,” Butler said. “She enrolled me in a criminal justice class and I fell in love with it. The next semester, I changed my major and got a degree in criminal justice and psychology.”

After college, Butler said the testing process re- quired to become a police offi cer took almost a year. She recalled being terrifi ed on her fi rst day of acad- emy, but she enjoyed the workouts, defense training and studies on Oklahoma’s laws. “To fi nally complete your training, you’ve earned the right, the honor to wear this uniform, and that is something special,” she said.

Butler was supervised by a veteran policeman and became a full offi cer at the end of her fi rst-year pro- bation period. Now 20 years later, she is a leader on the force, earning the rank of captain earlier this year. From close calls with gang bangers to teaching the Drug Abuse Resistance Education program in schools, she is pleased with her career choice and

does not plan on giving it up any time soon. “This is it, this is what I want to do,” Butler said. “It wasn’t something I thought I’d ever do, but I wouldn’t trade a single day, even the times I’ve been scared spitless.”

Unlike Latham’s early years of service, the con- cept of a female cop was more socially acceptable by the time Butler’s class graduated from academy, but Butler said there is still added pressure to prove herself as a woman. She knows both the public and other male offi cers are depending on her. “As a female, you always want to make sure you’re on top of your game, not only to let them know you can take care of yourself but so you know that you can take care of yourself,” she said.

Butler’s “can do” mentality has been passed down from Latham and her 1955 recruits, and Butler said she is grateful for the opportunity to carry on the tradition.

“Those ladies defi nitely laid some groundwork,” she said. “I can only imagine back then to come out of the home and have a career. That took some guts.”

The captain said it is now her responsibility to help the next generation of female offi cers fi nd their way, and for young ladies like Offi cer Katie Lawson, her career has already taken some exciting turns.

Inspiring the Next Generation

Twenty-nine-year-old Lawson grew up outside of Oklahoma City and from a young age, had origi- nally planned to become a veterinarian. “As I got into college, I got into an elective that

was law enforcement, which was taught by a po- lice chief of Midwest City, and I really enjoyed that class,” she said. Lawson left college and began police academy in June of 2006. Later, after her initial police train- ing, she returned to fi nish up her last few classes and receive her college degree. An offi cer for more than fi ve years now, she works a division that covers north and southwest Oklahoma City. “I work patrol on 3rd shift, which is 9:30 p.m. to 7:30 a.m.,” she said. “We work eight days and then we’re off six days.”

Despite the demanding work schedule, Lawson said she enjoys her job and the opportunity to make a positive impact in citizens’ lives. Each shift pres-

Offi cer Katie Lawson may be young, but she is already a seasoned woman of the law. In August of 2010, her patrol car was ambushed and she was shot six times. After three days in the hospital and some time to recuperate, she’s now back on the job patrolling the streets of Oklahoma City.

ents new challenges, and she is well aware of the danger involved.

On Aug. 29, 2010, Lawson was called to assist an Oklahoma County Sheriff’s Department offi cer with a traffi c stop. After helping make an arrest for a DUI, she left the scene to continue her shift, but as she drove away, she spotted a man in a nearby alley holding an assault rifl e. Moments later, he opened fi re on her patrol car. “My fi rst thought was ‘Is this really happening?’” she said. “Even though we know the dangers of our job, it’s kind of still a shock when it actually starts happening.” As the man fi red into her car, Lawson grabbed for her gun and began to fi re back. After several rounds, the man fl ed the scene and Lawson attempted to chase him, but there was a problem. Her legs did not cooperate.

“I did not realize the extent of my injuries,” she said. “I went to the hospital where I spent three days, and come to fi nd out, I sustained six shots.” A year later, Lawson’s scars are healing and she recounts the story with poise and control, but for a lot of young offi cers, such an ambush would have convinced them to leave law enforcement. Howev- er, Lawson said the incident showed her how she is protected and destined to be a cop.

“I’ve always counted on the Lord to protect me,” Lawson said. “In my heart, I know that’s the only reason I came out of that car is because the Lord was with me and He chose to save my life that night.” Determined to not let someone’s evil act ruin her life and career plans, she recuperated and then re- turned to her regular shift.

“It was important for me to come back and get in a patrol car – not to prove anything to anybody else but just to myself that I could get out there and still do the job,” Lawson said. The young offi cer’s courage to recover from such a traumatic event is part of the legacy Latham and her peers established more than 50 years ago, and Lawson said they are an inspiration to young of- fi cers today.

“They are an encouragement to us to see how

they did it back then, and you see more women do- ing this job,” she said. “Their strength allows us to move forward.”

Hall of Famers

Oklahoma’s six original female police offi cers were inducted into the Oklahoma Law Enforcement Hall of Fame on Dec. 5, 2010, in Chandler. The inductees were Berniece Jean Latham and Iona Fae Chapman Braswell who represented four other offi cers who are now deceased: Ina Mae “Tiny” Miller, Edna Jean Linn Armstrong, Lois Faye Moore

and Mildred Louise Jones. OL DECEMBER 2011 25

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