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Last updated: Sun. Jun. 01, 2014 - 01:53 pm EDT

Bluffton police chief retires as more women take up role

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Tammy Schaffer was something of an anomaly in her field when she got the top cop spot at the Bluffton Police Department a decade ago.

As she prepares for her retirement Monday from the department, being a female police chief isn’t all that unusual.

“She was one of the few, if not only one out of one or two police chiefs in the state,” Syracuse Police Chief Tony Ciriello said recently.

Ciriello met Shaffer several years ago when both were involved with the D.A.R.E. program, and he has also encountered her during his role as president of the Indiana Association of Chiefs of Police.

During his 33 years in law enforcement he’s seen the demographics shift to include far more women.

Police departments at Nappanee, Pittsboro, Indiana University Northwest and Indiana University’s main campus in Bloomington are some of the departments he listed with female police chiefs. Rochester previously had a female police chief.

“There are several now in the state of Indiana,” he said.

Starting today, IPFW will have its first female police chief.

With 425 municipal police departments in the state, plus another 92 county police departments – and no comprehensive list of chiefs or employees – tracking down exact numbers is close to impossible, even for those in law enforcement.

Changing times

For Schaffer, a lifetime Wells County resident, it’s clear the tide is turning and allowing more women in supervisory roles, including chief.

“Early on, when I became chief, I think there was one other female chief at these conferences I would attend. Sometimes none,” she said.

When Schaffer first started her career in law enforcement with the Ossian Police Department as a reserve officer, she was about 22 years old and the first woman to join the department.

Now 52, she sees several female chiefs at conferences and many more women in positions such as sergeant or deputy chief.

Schaffer joined the Bluffton Police Department in 1988 and worked through the ranks to become a sergeant and deputy chief before she was appointed chief in 2003.

Even as recently as 10 years ago, she met some other chiefs who were not used to seeing a woman in such a role.

“When I first became chief, there were still some of the older generation of chiefs that weren’t used to women in law enforcement,” she said.

In the Fort Wayne Police Department, which has 428 sworn officers, there are three women in supervisory roles.

All of them – a sergeant, a lieutenant and a captain – are in the detective bureau.

Officer Michael Joyner, spokesman for the department, said those numbers are down in recent years because of retirements.

The department previously had women in deputy chief positions, including one who is now in charge of security for Fort Wayne Community Schools.

At the Allen County Police Department, eight of the 124 sworn officers are women, with three in supervisory roles.

Jeremy Tinkel, spokesman for the department, said those numbers don’t change often because once someone gets promoted to sergeant or higher, that person tends to stay in that role until retirement.

Such longevity in supervisory roles does not allow for much turnover.

Schaffer and Ciriello agree that the numbers are not as impressive for any department as they could be, but they are getting better.

“There are a lot of very talented women out there who make good police officers and strong leaders, and it’s time we recognize and pull from that,” Ciriello said.

Shortly after Schaffer started in Ossian, the Bluffton Police Department hired its first female officer, who Schaffer said “paved the way” for women in the city’s police department.

Before she joined the Ossian department, Schaffer was working in a job stereotypically considered a role for women: a hairdresser. She cut the town marshal’s hair – and took him up on his offer to join the department.

That kick-started her career in policing.

Now that she’s had her run in law enforcement, she plans to relax all she can and let the stress of the job melt away.

A nature lover, she and her significant other plan to travel and garden – and have contemplated buying a pair of kayaks.

The good and bad

Although there was clearly much more to her than her gender when it came to her job, she experienced the pros and cons of being a woman in law enforcement.

During her time with Bluffton she worked in several different roles, including patrol officer, D.A.R.E. coordinator and child abuse investigator.

She said there can be a tendency to think female officers should be the ones assigned to juvenile investigations, and although that experience helped make her a more well-rounded officer, she said women can perform any role needed.

“They can be good at S.W.A.T. team, they can be good at drug interdiction and undercover operations,” Schaffer said, adding that it can be a challenge for women not to get typecast into certain roles.

She also experienced different treatment from victims or suspects than her male counterparts did during some investigations.

She recalled some instances when, even though she was the first officer on the scene, the caller didn’t care to talk to her and directed all conversation toward the male officers.

Ciriello said he has no doubt that gender can play a role, positive and negative.

“Unfortunately, there are people who have very little or no respect for females, period, let alone someone in an authority position,” he said.

Schaffer said that in those instances, she and other female officers have to put aside any ill feelings about such treatment and focus on completing the investigation, regardless of which officer gets the information.

However, she’s also seen her gender work to her advantage.

She feels that women tend to be better communicators, which could get someone to open up more with information about a crime. Ciriello said having a woman at the scene can also have a calming effect.

“Even if you’re a really bad guy, sometimes it’s still ingrained in your head that you should never hit a woman,” Schaffer said.

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