America’s Fallen Female Heroes
By Craig W. Floyd, Chairman & CEO, March 1, 2012
At about 7:30 p.m. on December 28, 2010, Arlington (TX) Police Officer Jillian Smith was dispatched to administer a domestic violence report. When she arrived at the site of the dispute, Officer Smith discovered that a male suspect had fled the scene, and she began taking a statement from the female victim, who was accompanied by her 11-year-old daughter.
While she was still on the scene, the male suspect returned, armed with a handgun. Instinctively, Officer Smith swiftly leapt toward the young girl to protect her. Then the suspect unleashed a fury of gunshots, fatally wounding Officer Smith before he shot and killed the female victim — his ex-girlfriend — and then killed himself.
The young girl, protected by Officer Smith, was able to escape unharmed. Officer Smith, 24, joined the Arlington Police Department in February 2010. She graduated from the academy in August of that year, and finished her field training just 15 days before she was killed.
“She will be remembered as a true hero, one who sacrificed her own young life to save an even younger one,” Arlington (TX) Police Chief Theron Bowman said before hundreds of mourners at a Vigil held for Officer Smith.
Officer Smith is one of 256 women who have died while serving in law enforcement throughout U.S. history. The first was Anna Hart, a jail matron with the Hamilton County (OH) Sheriff’s Department. On July 24, 1916, she was beaten over the head with an iron bed post by a prisoner in the county jail who was attempting to escape. Matron Hart was also the first of 26 female correctional officers to be killed in the line of duty.
Of the 256 female officers killed, 90 were shot to death; 129 died in traffic-related incidents: 92 in auto crashes, 34 struck and killed by vehicles while outside their own vehicles, two in train incidents, and one in a motorcycle crash. The remaining 37 died from various other causes.
Like Officer Jillian Smith, Washington, D.C. Metropolitan Police Officer Gail Cobb was just 24 years old when she was gunned down while trying to arrest a bank robber she had tracked to a downtown garage on September 20, 1974. She is the only female officer in the history of her department to die in the line of duty and the nation’s first African-American policewoman to make the ultimate sacrifice.
While both Officers Jillian Smith and Gail Cobb had not yet reached a quarter century and were still early in their law enforcement careers when their lives were taken, the average age of all 256 fallen women law enforcement officers was 36 and the average length of service was about eight years.
In 2011, ten female officers died in the line of duty—a 43 percent increase from 2010. The first was Clark County (OH) Sheriff’s Deputy Suzanne Hopper on New Year’s Day.
On January 1, 2011, Deputy Hopper reported to a mobile home park in Enon, northeast of Dayton, responding to a call about gunshots fired in the vicinity. While photographing footprints at the scene, a gunman suddenly opened his silver trailer door to ambush Deputy Hopper, 40, with a shotgun.
Deputy Hopper was killed instantly at approximately 11:30 a.m. “She never had the opportunity to return fire or take cover. She was an outstanding deputy,” said Sheriff Kelly. “This is the worst day of my 24 years as the Sheriff of Clark County.”
Less than a month later, two more officers were fatally shot and killed in Florida—one of them a woman, Miami-Dade (FL) Officer Amanda Haworth.
At approximately 11:00 a.m. on January 20, 2011, Miami-Dade (FL) Officers Haworth and Roger Castillo joined a team of agents to serve a first-degree murder warrant for a repeat offender wanted for an October 2010 slaying.
Upon entering the residence, the suspect fired a barrage of shots at the warrants division agents from point-blank range, lethally striking two and injuring one, before Officer Oscar Placencia returned a fatal shot at the suspect.
Officer Haworth, age 44 and a 23-year veteran, was transported to a hospital where she died during surgery. Officer Castillo, also a 23-year veteran, died at the scene. According to authorities, both agents were wearing bullet-proof armor and police identification.
The vicious ambush that took two law enforcement members was the first “cluster killing”—when two or more officers are shot and killed in the same incident—in decades for Miami-Dade.
“Today, our community lost two more heroes. Our hearts ache for their families and their loved ones who are dealing with incomprehensible grief, loss, and shock,” said John Rivera, President of the Florida and Miami-Dade Chapter of the Police Benevolent Association.
“These two officers were loving family members, friends and our neighbors. They wanted to serve their community and make it a better, safer place for all of us,” he said.
While Miami-Dade has lost three female officers throughout its department’s history, the Detroit (MI) and Puerto Rico Police Departments share the unwanted distinction of having the most female officers killed in the line of duty of all agencies, with six each.
In addition to Miami-Dade, six other agencies have lost three female officers, including the New York City Police Department (NYPD). One of those three women, NYPD Police Officer Moira Smith, died on the deadliest day in law enforcement history.
On September 11, 2001, 72 law enforcement officers were killed in the heroic response to the terrorist attacks that day. In addition to Officer Moira Smith, one other woman died while rescuing innocent victims from the burning towers: Captain Kathy Mazza of the Port Authority of New York/New Jersey Police Department.
Despite the tragedies of 9/11, the year with the most female officer fatalities in history would come the following year, 2002, with 15 deaths.
Alarmingly, four (29 percent) of the 14 total officer fatalities in 2012 (as of the end of January 2012) were women: Park Ranger Margaret Anderson of the National Park Service; Arkansas Department of Correction Sergeant Barbara Ester; Senior Police Officer Gail Thomas of the Atlanta (GA) Police Department.; and Master Corporal Sandra Roberts of the Aiken (SC) Department of Public Safety.
As we celebrate National Women’s History Month, we remember and honor the admirable women of law enforcement who put their lives on the line in order to protect ours. While Washington, D.C. Metropolitan Police Officer Gail Cobb’s funeral was held nearly four decades ago, the sentiment of what the chaplain officiating told the packed church that day remains true, “Her death established the fact that the criminal makes no distinction between the sexes.”
Craig W. Floyd is Chairman of the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund. Visit www.LawMemorial.org for more information about law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty.
(Note to Editor: This article will be published in the March 2012 issue of AMERICAN POLICE BEAT, a national law enforcement publication. It may be reprinted in whole, or part, in your publication, but it must include the following attribution: “Reprinted with permission of the author and AMERICAN POLICE BEAT.”