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Determined Women, Up To The Challenge!

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By Laurie Moody

Several days of raging fires and smoke filled skies couldn't stop the determined women who attended the Riverside County Sheriff's Department's 3rd Annual "Women's Fitness Challenge" at the Ben Clark Training Center. Over 200 brave women set out early Saturday morning to meet the departments' physical agility challenge head on.

The "Women's Fitness Challenge" is dedicated to the memory of Sergeant Kathy Hoidahl.  She joined the department in 1989 and served as a deputy sheriff for 17 years on assignment spanning the county.  Sergeant Hoidahl, was very involved with the community in the Hemet Valley and helped establish the Police Activities League. In her last assignment, was in recruitment.

Many female officers volunteered their time to assist as team leaders.  Each team leader was responsible for providing guidance and motivation to a team of 10-20 women.  Explorer Scouts were also on hand to help with the details of the day.  The Explorer program is a division of the Boy Scouts of America and gives young people 14-21 a first hand look at what law enforcement is really like. Brittany Young, 17, has only been a scout for a couple of months.  She plans on studying law and eventually wants to become a district attorney.  She believes that there are so few African American youth involved in the program because they have a negative view of law enforcement because that's all they see on television.  Brittany appreciates the training and discipline the program provides. 

Recruits discover if they have what it takes to be a deputy.

The anxious teams of participants were in various stages of the recruitment process. Many of the women who participated in the agility test felt that it was the most challenging part of the recruitment process.  The obstacle course did in fact pose a challenge for many of the women.  The "wall" stopped several participants dead in their tracks.  However, there were massage therapists on hand to provide much needed relief for participants who developed aches and pains.  Motivating presentations by high ranking female officers soothed broken spirits. Undersheriff Valerie Hill and Captain Colleen Walker, provided much needed humor and real life experiences to the group.  They shared stories of sacrifice and the misconceptions embraced by their male counterparts about women in the early years in the profession.  They both gave an account of driving long distances to question rape victims only to arrive and find an equally qualified male officer on duty. The perceptions were that women should do it.  Neither of these ladies had ever experienced being rapped and believed that they were no better qualified to question a rape victim than male officers.  Captain Colleen Walker reflected on the days in the department when there weren't separate locker rooms and no sexual harassment laws.  Over the years these very distinguished women have promoted through the ranks and helped implement positive changes while becoming wives, mothers and grandmothers.  When asked about the unique qualities women bring to the department, the very competent law enforcement professionals agreed that women bring sensitivity to personnel issues that wouldn't otherwise exist.

Lieutenant Virginia Busby manages the department's basic training center for peace officers and correctional officers.  She informed that training was available on the weekend for trainees who work full-time.

Undersheriff Valerie Hill spoke of real life experiences during her career with the sheriff’s department
Lieutenant Shelley Kennedy-Smith, Personnel Bureau Director, is one of the highest ranking female officers in the department.  She is also one of the highest ranking African-American officers.   Lieutenant Kennedy-Smith is happy about the plan for a more proactive approach to diversity.  Undersheriff Valerie Hill shared that promoting minority officers to higher ranks is a priority and has been a topic of conversation between she and her newly appointed boss, Sheriff Stanley Sniff. She agreed that it is important for the department to reflect the diverse cultures, races and genders of the community.

Personnel representatives were on hand to answer questions about the many rewarding positions within the department.  When people think of a career with the Riverside County Sheriff's Department, they picture the deputy with a gun and badge but, there are many other jobs available within the department.  To find out what's available visit the website at WWW.JOINRSD.ORG.

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