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What’s it like for female officers? Manatee deputies gave these girls a chance to see

Many people consider a career in law enforcement to be a “man’s job.” The Manatee County Sheriff’s Office is trying to change that impression.

On Saturday, more than 20 deputies collaborated with the Girl Scouts of America for a day packed to the brim with law enforcement activities. About 80 middle school and high school girls cycled through five stations that allowed them to explore all kinds of career options within the sheriff’s office.

“I think (today’s event) caters to a lot of different subjects. There’s science with the dogs here and the horses, and they’re doing fingerprints,” said 15-year-old Olivia Bailey. “You’ve got animals and science, so I think it’s very inclusive.”

The different activities included forensics, mounted patrol, SWAT, K9 and fingerprinting. Each station also featured presentations from female deputies with the sheriff’s office. Lt. Christine Thomason said opportunities like this make for eye-opening experiences.

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SWAT medic Amy Kemp, the only female deputy in the unit, helps a Girl Scout into a protective vest during a demo and tour of an armored vehicle during Saturday’s career exploration day with the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office. Ryan Callihan rcallihan@bradenton.com

“This is an honor coming here and working this type of event just to see the expressions on the girls’ faces and see the different things that they can do and realize that women in law enforcement can do just the same as men when it comes to handling dogs or a crime scene,” said Thomason, who is the sheriff’s office’s only female K9 trainer and handler. “It’s just great to see their faces and know that women can be just as great as the men out here.”

Isabela Mendez, a 12-year-old Girl Scout, said that’s one of the impressions she walked away with.

“I wasn’t expecting to see so many female deputies out here,” she said. “Obviously, when you think of police officers, a lot of people think of men, but it’s good to see that there’s an equal amount of men and women and that they’re equally represented.”

Even still, the sheriff’s office would like to see more women join their ranks. According to sheriff’s office spokesman Randy Warren, just over 30 percent of those who work for the agency are women. Tammy Peters, an event coordinator for the Girl Scouts, said she could see that number rising quickly by getting girls involved at a young age.

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Deputy Holly Combee (middle) explains how the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office uses horses and mounted patrol to keep communities safe. Ryan Callihan rcallihan@bradenton.com

“I have lots of girls interested in that track, and this really gets them a firsthand look at the things they could do,” Peters said. “A lot of times, girls just have one thing in mind of being a police officer, but this shows them all the different roles they could take because right now we have so many representatives of all the different avenues in the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office.”

Peters plans a themed camping trip for the Girl Scouts of Manatee every year, but this one may have the longest lasting effect.

“These girls are in heaven,” she said. “You try to find things for them to get excited, but MSO blew it out of the park today.”

Ryan Callihan is the Bradenton Herald’s County Reporter, covering local government and politics. On the weekends, he also covers breaking news. Ryan is a graduate of USF St. Petersburg.
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