Detective Andrea Davis does CrossFit. Working undercover, she bought a sawed-off shotgun from a gang member. And she wears heels to work.
Davis is one of the faces of the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office's campaign to hire more women — the first such initiative in the agency's history.
Just three sheriffs ago, the agency had a reputation of being cold toward women. Sheriff Malcolm Beard got into tussles with the National Organization for Women in the 1970s and wasn't keen on federal employment laws that pushed diverse hiring. Female hires were put in limited roles, such as juvenile crime.
Now, recruiters are designing posters that show several female deputies in different scenes. They're in uniform. At the gym. Wearing dresses in Hyde Park.
"We want to show that we are real women," said Davis, who works in recruitment and screening.
Currently, the agency has about 2,230 sworn positions. Only about 415 are filled by women. That's 19 percent.
Lt. Jim Bradford, who oversees training and recruiting, says the agency doesn't have a quantifiable goal for its new campaign. Sheriff's officials mostly just want to increase the pool of qualified candidates, and their guess is that Florida has plenty of intelligent, athletic women who'd be perfect for the agency — if only they'd consider law enforcement.
"People think of a cop as a 6-foot-4, burly man," Davis said. "Little girls usually don't grow up wanting to be police officers. Little boys do."
Davis herself never considered becoming a deputy until college. She shadowed a female officer in the Panhandle who was petite, just like the 5-foot-1 Davis. It was exciting, she remembers.
Sheriff's officials also hope increasing the number of female deputies will strengthen the agency. Sometimes crime victims want to talk to a woman, said Col. Ed Duncan, who also oversees recruiting.
Duncan, who was hired in 1978, remembers his early years, when women's roles were limited. But things slowly evolved. The Sheriff's Office has had a female canine handler, diver and motorcycle deputy.
Recruiters plan to pin the posters at gyms and colleges. Those are the type of women they want, after all. They've already started talking with the coaches of female athletic teams at Florida universities.
They also mentor female applicants, advising them along the way.
One of the first steps in the often six-to nine-month hiring process is a physical test. Everyone — male and female — has to run 1.5 miles in 15 minutes, do 20 push-ups, 25 sit-ups and sprint 300 meters in 69 seconds.
The hardest part for the women is the push-ups, so recruiter Detective Elvira Huggins advises female applicants and helps them devise a work-out plan.
Jessica Dillon, 23, started training about six months ago, and at a recent physical test, she did 32 pushups and passed every test.
As she gasped for breath recently, she said she was proud of herself. She's one step closer to her dream job.
"To protect and serve," she said. "It feels like the right thing to do."
Dillon, who is studying criminal justice at Saint Leo University, said she expected the male-to-female ratio she saw at the recruiting event. There were 27 men and three women.
Another woman at the physical test, 22-year-old Taishea Donald did 51 pushups. The muscular man next to her nodded his head in approval.
"I'm naturally athletic," she said later.
And though the sheriff and most of the top brass are males, there's one high-ranking female who deputies can look to: the recently promoted Col. Donna Lusczynski, who was hired in 1991.
She oversees the Criminal Investigations Division, which includes homicide, sex crimes, child abuse, narcotics and gang investigations.
Lusczynski heard about the recruiting office's push to hire more women at a recent staff meeting and thought it was a great idea.
"It's becoming more popular now, but when I started, it wasn't an occupation that was pushed and promoted for females," she said.
In college, Lusczynski studied marine biology and took a few criminology courses. Crime turned out to be much more interesting than sea life, and she graduated with a criminology degree from the University of Tampa.
She thinks the stereotypical male officer is becoming an idea of the past.
"You can still be feminine, have a family and do other things," she said. "Male or female, anybody who works to achieve a certain rank has paid their dues and made those sacrifices. It's something I find rewarding."
Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3433.