Sitting in an Oklahoma City restaurant earlier this month, three women laughed as they reminisced about their rough and tumble days working for the Oklahoma City Police Department.
Sherry Garcia, Julie Smith and Gladys Loflin are three of the five women who were hired in December 1972 as Oklahoma City's first female police officers.
The other two women were Shirley Conner, of Tuttle, who was too ill to join them that day, and Norma Adams, of Oklahoma City, who died in December.
“We all get together and sometimes you may not think that we are friends — because we can argue over whether the sun is shining or not — but the point of it is that we are,” Smith said. “It is because of the shared experience and we were it.
“Anyone who came after us never became a part of us. It's not that we didn't feel for them or that we didn't like them, it just wasn't the same like the ones I went through recruit school with.”
While Garcia, Smith, Loflin, Conner and Adams were the first women to complete police training and carry a gun, they are not recognized as Oklahoma City's first female police officers. In 1955, a group of women were hired to work traffic and issue tickets.
“What they went through must have been hell. What we went through was hell,” Loflin said. “They were the policewomen of their era. They started opening that door for us to become full-fledged police officers. I just wish they would take credit for that.”
It was November 1972 when then-police Chief Sam D. Watson announced the department would begin hiring female officers.
According to a Nov. 14, 1972, article in The Oklahoman, 47 women applied at police headquarters the day after the announcement was made and many others were turned away and asked to return the next day.
“The line for applying snaked around the whole building,” Garcia said. “There had to have been almost 200 women in line.”
Garcia was a recently divorced, single mother looking for work. Loflin had moved from California with her husband and was working at the Berry House juvenile detention center. Smith — who at 22 was the youngest — worked at Pinkerton as a security guard.
“One of the other security guards told me about the hiring announcement and then he told me if there was any woman who could do the job, it was me, so I applied,” Smith said.
Others did not think a woman could do the job.
“I'd hate to have a frail little girl back me up when the bullets are flying,” an Oklahoma City police officer said, according to the newspaper article.
Many of the police officers' wives picketed City Hall, saying the recruitment of female officers would lead to more divorces among officers, Smith said.
The applicants were interviewed by secretaries, who asked how much they drank, if they smoked, if they had a boyfriend and how often they went out. After the initial interview, the women said they were polygraphed for hours.
“I think the reason why we all got hired was because none of us had a history with drugs. That was definitely a feat back in the '60s and the '70s,” Smith said.
Garcia found out she had been hired when a television reporter asked her what she would do to change the department.
“What a stupid question to ask. I had no idea what to say. I think I may have said something about the curtains,” Garcia said.
Adapting to change
The department did not have female uniforms or a sexual harassment policy in place when the women entered the academy.
They wore civilian clothes during inspections and usually had points docked, while men were in their crisp uniforms. They didn't get their uniforms until shortly before they graduated from the academy, Smith said.
Every decision made about the female uniforms was a fight, Garcia said. Should the women have a side zipper or a front zipper? What kind of shoes should they wear? Could they have a purse?
The uniforms the women wore during their graduation were A-lined skirts, short heels and Women's Army Corps hats with K9 badges.
“I remember a lot of the men tried to look up our skirts,” Smith said.
Loflin said when she became a supervisor years later, a female officer reported another supervisor was sexually harassing her and the supervisor was disciplined. It wasn't like that for the five.
“There was no law for harassment. Sexual harassment was not known,” Loflin said. “If one of us had done that, they would have looked at us and said ‘If you can't handle it, you can't take it, get out.'”
It took about a year before the women were considered real police officers, said Garcia, who was the first female officer to get into a violent, physical altercation with a suspect.
After the fight, Garcia and her partner were giving their statements to the typists at the office.
“I was holding my hair that had been pulled out during the fight for evidence. It still had pieces of my scalp still on it,” she said. “A younger female cop approached me and told me, ‘I'm so jealous of you.' My partner turns to me and asks ‘What the hell is she talking about? We just almost died.'
“But I knew exactly what she meant. I finally proved myself,” Garcia said.
Paving the way
Oklahoma City police Capt. Kimberlee Flowers met the five women after she was hired in 1982. While female officers still had to prove themselves to their male partners, a lot had changed in 10 years, Flowers said.
“They really paved the way for us,” she said. “We are a lot more accepted now and it wouldn't be that way without them.”
Today the police force has 118 female officers.
“We were on the cusp of change and we didn't even realize it,” Garcia said. “If one of us messed up in any way, there would not be any policewomen because they would use that as an excuse to hire no more. That we had to make it and we had to make it stepping on glass and stepping around obstacles.”
Smith became the first female major in the department. Loflin ended her career as a lieutenant, and Garcia, Adams and Conner were inspector sergeants.
“We knew men and women are different but we can do the same job, but in different ways,” Loflin said. “We had to learn our own limitations and our strengths and to use them.”
Each of the five women worked for the department for more than 20 years — the years it takes to be eligible for retirement — and took a trip to Puerto Vallarta to celebrate.
In January 2012, Loflin was honored as the city of Apache Woman of the Year. That was the last time all five women were together.
“Norma's death has left a hole in our group that we can't really ever fill,” Loflin said.
We were on the cusp of change and we didn't even realize it. If one of us messed up in any way, there would not be any policewomen because they would use that as an excuse to hire no more. That we had to make it and we had to make it stepping on glass and stepping around obstacles.”
One of five women who were Oklahoma City's first female police officers