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Female Officer Set the Standard, Paved Way for Others

October 29, 2000|TINA DIRMANN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Ventura Police Officer Jeanne Boger prepared for her first day on patrol by slipping on a navy blue skirt, easing into a pair of low-heeled pumps and grabbing a department-issued purse carrying her revolver, handcuffs and bullets.

It was 1973 and that was the standard uniform for the first woman on patrol in the city of Ventura. Officers in the upper ranks--men, of course--had no idea how to dress a woman on the beat. So they decided to dress her, well, like a lady.

"But then, even I never thought women would ever be driving a black-and-white," said Boger, 54, who retired last summer after more than 30 years behind the badge. "People just thought it was too dangerous for women. Had I known when I went through the academy, I'd have probably switched careers."

But Boger excelled as a female officer, setting the standard and paving the way for the 10 others on today's force.

Boger doesn't see herself as a crusader who took a bold step forward in the battle for women's rights. Sitting in her living room and looking at old photos of herself posed near a squad car in pantyhose and a beehive hairdo, she smiles.

"I was an officer just trying to do the best job I knew how," she said.

Boger was just a little girl in the late 1950s when she decided she wanted to be a police officer. Growing up in Banning, Boger met a few officers who left a strong impression on her. They were kind, she said, and seemed so dedicated to helping others, she knew that would be her calling.

It didn't matter that at the time a woman in law enforcement meant the chief had a female secretary.

Worried her family wouldn't approve, Boger didn't tell her parents of her plans when she sent her college application to Cal State Los Angeles, which had a top-notch police science degree program. Instead, she waited until the acceptance letter came.

"You'll never do it," Boger remembers her mom saying.

"But I was headstrong," said Boger, the oldest of six siblings. "I was going to do it in spite of her."

Still, no one tried to stop her, even when she confided a few horror stories professionals teaching the classes had shared with students.

"They didn't say anything," Boger said. "I think they thought if they kept quiet I'd change my mind after graduation."

But as her senior year was winding down, Boger began looking for a job. It was tough, at first. Police departments circulated fliers: College men, we want you!

A few departments were open to hiring women, many of whom worked as records clerks or, in the best of cases, paper-trail detectives tracking bounced checks. Other female students were settling for positions called "police woman clerk."

That's when Ventura Police Chief David Geary spoke to one of Boger's classes. It was March 1968 and she was one of six female students listening to Geary's pitch.

"I always thought the chief was just being polite when he spoke to the class and said, 'Any guys or gals who might be interested in a job, come talk to me.' But he said it, he said 'gals,' and I knew that was my chance."

She applied and before the year was out was offered a job--as a dispatcher, a non-sworn position. But the job came with a promise from Geary. In the department's next budget, he would create a female officer position. Boger trusted Geary, mainly because another woman, Ida Spellman, was working in the department's sex and juvenile crimes unit.

"But several guys told me I was wasting my time, because the chief said he would never hire another female officer," Boger said.

Her trust paid off. On July 1, 1969, Boger was sworn in.

"I was in seventh heaven," Boger said. "I thought I had reached my goal."

She was assigned to the forgery unit, tracking down bad-check writers. It was a low-risk job, mostly inside, and didn't require a uniform--perfect for a woman. Patrol work, she said, was out of the question.

"That was definitely man's work," Boger said.

Four years later, that thinking would change. A new chief was sworn in and Boger was fitted for a uniform. The first day she stood in her skirt and police shirt, Chief Richard Baugh called a news conference. Before a crowd of reporters, Boger learned she would be riding in a black-and-white and answering calls. Just like a man.

Hearing the news, Boger wasn't convinced this was good news.

"Now I'm in a black-and-white, I'm more of a target," she said.

The Los Angeles Police Department already had female patrol officers, and Simi Valley had begun to experiment with the idea, using female traffic officers. So Boger got into a squad car.

She expected problems--thinking her male co-workers wouldn't respect her or worrying that suspects would refuse to take orders from a woman.

But the biggest problem turned out to be the uniform.

It was hard to run and scale walls in a skirt and heels, Boger said. At times, she tossed her shoes. Plus, she was forbidden to wear a utility belt for her gun and cuffs, which she had to carry in a purse.

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