One of my intrepid editors at Law Enforcement Technology sent me a link to a story about a Florida police officer who became pregnant and was fired from her department. (Note: You can read about it firsthand by going to Officer.com and searching for "Krystal Nix." And if you haven’t been to Officer.com before then you’re in for a real treat. LET’s official website is a great source of news, commentary and community for LEOs.)
The story says Krystal Nix, who worked for the Brooksville Police Department for six years, told Chief George Turner that she was expecting a child and the chief allegedly countered by asking if she could work patrol until her third trimester. Nix instead asked for light duty and was sent to the city’s human resources department, where she says, she was told there was no "light duty" within the department. Nix was given the choice to resign or be fired.
I can relate to this, but in a different way. I had my children while an active duty officer. I did move into light duty at a certain point early in my pregnancies. My boss was exceptionally enlightened when it came to female officers. He was our biggest supporter and often bragged that the women on his department could do anything the men could.
According to the article on Officer.com, the Brooksville Department has granted light duty in the past to male officers; if that doesn’t smack of a double standard, I don’t know what does.
What I found really interesting about this story were the comments from LEOs on the Officer.com site: Most of them were supportive of Nix. And I agree–no one should have to choose between a career and having a family. Simply because women are the ones engineered to carry children it doesn’t negate their usefulness in the law enforcement profession.
Brooksville has 7,719 residents, according to the 2010 U.S. Census. In 2007, the city had 23 full-time and one part-time employee. I don’t know the size of its present department, but Brookville isn’t a tiny department and, since it’s worked with officers out on light duty before, apparently it can function without being fully-staffed in the field. Nix was offered a low-paying, part-time position working 20 hours a week. It came with no benefits. She declined and I think that was the right decision.
I’ve seen male officers who had surgery or illnesses be confined to light duty, which in my department was generally "riding the desk." I don’t know why a pregnancy would be viewed with any difference. And yes, while I realize that pregnancy may be an optional condition, women are inherently valuable in this profession. They work patrol, act as supervisors, go undercover, excel as investigators, serve on SWAT and lead some of the biggest departments in the nation. And they don’t wear high heels and skirts anymore. Those days are long gone.
For those who argue that a small department shouldn’t have to be shorthanded just so someone can have a baby, think about it this way: How long does it take for a new recruit to become useful to an agency? I believe it takes about two years for a new cop to really start showing a return on the department’s investment in him or her. It only requires nine months to have a baby. I worked through my pregnancies and then took six weeks of maternity leave. I combined my sick leave, vacation and compensatory time in order to draw a paycheck while I was out.
I think the City of Brooksville is wrong on this one. What do you think?