Maria Bailey has been interested in a law-enforcement career from the time a police officer spoke to her eighth-grade civics class nearly 25 years ago.
But for years, police agencies would not even accept Bailey's application because of her small frame--she stood 5 feet, 2 inches and weighed slightly more than 100 pounds.
After height and weight limits were thrown out for being discriminatory, Bailey was hired by the San Diego County Sheriff's Department in 1984 and sent to the 24th San Diego Regional Academy, which was operated jointly by the Police and Sheriff's departments. The mother of three lasted until the final week of the academy before she was dismissed for several weaknesses, among them her inability to shoot a firearm.
In short, her training officers told her she was too naive to do police work, Bailey said.
Most cadets would have given up their dream of being a law-enforcement officer and would have pursued another line of work. But not Bailey. Determined to graduate from the academy, she accepted a job as a sheriff's records clerk, sharpened her shooting skills and worked on physical conditioning for two years.
In January, Bailey joined the 74th Sheriff's Academy as one of 17 "open enrollees" who paid $1,500 for supplies, equipment and college fees to attend. Those interested in going through the academy as open enrollees apply directly to the training staff at the academy at Southwestern College, not the Sheriff's Department.
Unlike most cadets who are hired by the Sheriff's Department, open enrollees are neither sponsored by a police agency nor assured of a job in law enforcement if they survive the academy.
The academy training staff noted a startling improvement in Bailey's performance and highly recommended her for a deputy sheriff position. She was not offered a job, however, after she failed two of three psychological screening examinations.
Bailey, who passed her original psychological evaluation before she was hired by the Sheriff's Department in 1984, is frustrated that her lifelong dream has been shattered by two psychologists. She believes she is being viewed as different because she does not drink or smoke, is a vegetarian and meditates.
"These psychologists can arbitrarily say anything they want, and nobody questions it. And that irks me," Bailey said. "What is upsetting is that none of them can agree on anything."
Bailey is not an isolated case, said Lt. Dennis Kollar, director of the Sheriff's Academy.
"When we have someone who we feel is a very good candidate fail the psychological, it's disappointing to us, too," Kollar said. "We are mystified by it. Not only are we in a pretty good position to document their performance in the academy, we are able make some pretty valid predictions of their ability to perform the job.
"If someone has a psychological deficiency, generally we would see it manifested here to some degree."
Dr. Michael Mantell, one of the two psychologists who failed Bailey based largely on test data, agreed that a tough, 18-week academy is a better judge of character than a psychological screening.
"If she comes up on this test with two scales above the norm, we have to follow state guidelines and say here are our problems," Mantell said. "The sheriff's office is ultimately the one who decided to accept or not to accept based on the psychological. They can ignore the psychological. All they have to do is hire them."
According to county employment regulations, however, the Sheriff's Department is not permitted to hire anyone who fails a psychological exam, Lt. Bert Moorhead said.
Sheriff John Duffy said Bailey told him of her plight after the graduation ceremony for the 74th Academy.
"I don't doubt she will do it eventually," Duffy said. "I've never seen anybody more determined."
Duffy said he has little faith in psychological tests. "I think at best they are subjective," he said.
Although acknowledging the potential liability problem of hiring someone against the advice of a psychologist, Duffy expressed frustration at county hiring regulations that prohibit the department from overruling a psychologist.
"We find ourselves in a hell of a trap," Duffy said. "The better we get, the more we kind of screw ourselves into the ground. We don't have the flexibility we once had. I'm not sure that people like me who came to work here and never took a psychological could get hired now."
Duffy recalled a similar case involving a reserve deputy who paid his own way through the Sheriff's Academy and graduated as "an honor student."
"We got to the point where we were ready to hire him and everything was perfect except the psychological," Duffy said. "Now what in the hell do I do? . . . I couldn't keep him as a reserve, and I had a very difficult time telling the father on the telephone."
Several years ago, Duffy recalled, he told a psychologist "to go to hell" and hired a probation worker as a sheriff's deputy.