Sherri Adams was a year away from graduating college when she abandoned becoming a special education teacher.
The rest is San Bernardino history.
After seeing an ad in the newspaper, Adams joined the county Sheriff's Academy.
In 1985, she became the first Black female police officer in San Bernardino.
Nearly 40 years after her groundbreaking hire, the San Bernardino Police Historical Society recognized Adams Tuesday, Nov. 22, with a permanent exhibit at the city's main police station.
"It's a great honor," she said in a phone interview this week.
Youthful in appearance as a 20-something when she began her career, Adams started as an undercover officer, working narcotics cases in San Bernardino schools.
"At the time, San Bernardino had one of the highest crime rates," the now-59-year-old said. "There were a lot of gangs, a lot of drugs. There were certain areas you could go down and (drugs) were just out there. It was easy to buy because a lot of people were selling.
"And being the first Black female officer," she continued, "people never suspected I was a cop."
Fearless in duty back then, Adams can admit decades later she sometimes can't believe she went into strangers' houses to buy cocaine, heroin, marijuana.
Her work over six months led to myriad arrests, however.
"I didn't have any fear then," she said, "but now that I think about it, I think, 'Oh my god, what was I thinking?' "
Over her career, Adams worked patrol, narcotics, bicycle mounted enforcement and was part of the Drug Abuse Resistance Education, or DARE, team.
She savored the variety of details, she said this week, and enjoyed the proactive nature of policing.
"We would do stuff in the community," Adams added, "walking around, checking in on different businesses, see what's going on. Being the face of the Police Department, you hold yourself to a higher standard."
Adams, whose husband, Melvin Lucas, also is a retired San Bernardino police officer, ultimately returned to Cal State Fullerton while still on the job to finish her degree.
She retired in 2001 and subsequently began working in the San Bernardino City Unified School District.
The mother of three now works with at-risk youth for the county.
As far as her career in law enforcement, "Sherri set an example, especially for our teenagers of today," said Dennis Houser, a retired sergeant and the chairman of the San Bernardino Police Historical Society. "She gives them something to look up to, a goal to reach at and achieve."
Adams' landmark hire paved the way for Shauna Gates, who in 2018 became the city's first Black female police lieutenant, and Chief Darren Goodman, the first Black police chief in city history.
Adams' plaque at police headquarters hangs below the one remembering Johnnie Epps, San Bernardino's first Black officer.
"I'm just honored to share the space with (Epps)," Adams said.
San Bernardino presently has two Black female officers, Houser said.
In the past, the city has had as many as seven Black female officers working simultaneously.
"Sherri shows that whoever you are," Houser said, "you shouldn't set limits on what your aspirations and dreams are."
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