MANATEE -- Married and the mother of four children, Rebecca Evans decided it was time to live out her lifelong dream: becoming a police officer.
Evans, 35, joined the Academy at Manatee Technical Institute in 2010 and started working part-time at her hometown police department in Palmetto.
"When I was younger I always wanted to be a cop, but I set my goals on hold," Evans said. "It's something I've always wanted to do. My husband said, 'Go for it. I think you'll do really good.'"
When an officer recently retired, leaving a full-time position vacant, Evans applied.
Now halfway through her 16-week field training, Evans is on track to set a milestone for the Palmetto Police Department. She will be the first black woman to serve
in a full-time capacity on the force.
"I've been here 18 years and she is the first qualified African-American female applicant we've ever had," said Deputy Chief Scott Tyler. "Although law enforcement is wide open to women, we don't get as many females as males."
Evans didn't realize such an honor would be hers.
"I was happy when I heard I was first at something. I never win anything," Evans said with a laugh. "My mom started crying."
Being the first black female officer to serve Palmetto is not the only thing setting Evans apart. Her love for people, ability to strike up a conversation with anyone and dedication to helping children makes Evans a perfect fit for the Palmetto's emphasis on community policing.
"It's important to us that our department is as diversified as the community we serve," said Chief Rick Wells.
"Just the fact that she's from this area and knows the people in the community will help us serve them better. Hopefully she'll be able to gain trust in the community like all our officers try to do."
Previously working customer service and health care jobs, Evans is a skilled communicator and familiar with high-stress situations, but is still learning to take control. Most surprising to her has been the amount of paperwork.
"You have to document every call," she said. "I haven't had any crazy calls yet, but I'm jinxing myself."
The woman, who has lived her entire life in Manatee and Sarasota counties, was also caught off guard when she realized, "I'm not as familiar with Palmetto as I thought."
But learning Palmetto's geography and driving routes is all part of her training. As is reviewing statutes, applying officer safety measures and patrolling night and day shifts -- all requiring a strong support system.
"My husband has been supporting me from day one," Evans said. "My mom was scared at first, but she's very proud and now I can't get her to stop telling people."
Evans said her children, ages 18, 16, 14 and 11 have had different reactions.
"My oldest one isn't always fond of it, and my 16-year-old is talking about becoming a cop," she said. "My son loves it, and my baby is afraid something will happen to me."
But this is an opportunity for Evans, who despite past mistakes, has always worked to be a positive influence. The first of her mother's family to graduate high school, go to college and get married, Evans hopes she can inspire Palmetto's young people to follow their dreams.
"The closer I get to my last phase, the more excited and eager I am to be on my own," Evans said. "I want to make a difference. Young kids -- those are the ones to focus on; They are our future. I want to let people see that no matter who you are, you can do the right thing."