88: Law and Order

88: Law and Order

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Empowered Woman

Law and Order

Discrimination is discrimination, even when people claim it’s tradition.

~DaShanne Stokes

After leaving a crazy and abusive relationship, I decided to change my life. I wrote out my goals and put them on the wall. I enrolled in college at night and took self-improvement courses at work.

As I made steps toward my goals, I started to feel better about myself. My self-esteem increased. My mind became clearer, and I started asking myself, Where am I headed? I wanted to do something different and challenging, so I took every job test I found, including one for the Philadelphia Police Department.

The written test was administered at a high school, and I scored ninety-five percent. As part of the interviewing process, I took a lie-detector test and a psychological test at the police academy. After receiving notification in the mail that I had passed both tests, I was required to take the physical exam. When I met with the doctor, he instructed me to stand up to measure my height. After doing so, he said, “Oh, let me measure you again.” He did and then said, “You are a quarter of an inch too short.”

I asked, “Too short for what?” I didn’t know there was a height requirement. A month later, I received a letter informing me I did not get the job.

Disappointed and upset, I returned to my assistant supervisor job at the bank. Three years later, I received a call at work from someone saying she was from the federal government. She asked if I was Kathleen Morris and requested my Social Security number. “I’m not giving my Social Security number over the phone,” I responded.

“Can you acknowledge if this is your number?” she asked as she recited my Social Security number. “This is the federal government,” she repeated.

“Okay, but I am at work. Can you call me at home?” I asked.

“What time will you be home?” she asked. I said 5:30.

I went home and waited. The phone rang at exactly 5:30 p.m. I answered and asked, “How did you find me?”

She answered, “Your Social Security number.”

Then she told me there was a class-action lawsuit against the Philadelphia Police Department for discriminating against women, and my name was on the list. She wanted to confirm I had taken all the tests and my current mailing address. She then asked if I wanted to participate in the lawsuit. I said, “Yes.”

As part of the settlement, she said, “You will get a job offer, back pay and seniority. What do you want?”

I said, “I want it all.”

It would be a couple of years before I received a letter in the mail telling me to report to the police academy within forty-eight hours. This was a shock because I had forgotten completely about it. It also informed me where to go to purchase my cadet uniform and shoes.

I had to cut my shoulder-length hair, which I resisted until the commanding officer threatened that I would not graduate from the academy if I did not cut it. The physical training was intense. I was prepared physically because I was already running four miles a day, but I did not know I would have to climb a ladder up a three-story building. (I am afraid of heights.) The instructors spent thirty minutes coaching and threatening me before I made it to the top. I also did not know how to swim. When the instructor pushed me into the deep end of the pool, I almost drowned. Someone jumped in and pulled me to the ledge. He taught me how to stay afloat by dog paddling.

Two months into training, I was issued a Smith & Wesson Colt 45. I had never seen a real gun or been around a weapon before. The gun was too heavy for me. I had to improve my upper-body strength to be able to handle it, so I started doing chin-ups and push-ups. After all of the additional self-training, I was able to manage my weapon. Four months later, I walked across the stage as one of the five women accepted in the Philadelphia Police Force. After the ceremony, I went to dinner with my family. When I returned to my apartment, a message on my home phone instructed me to report to work that night at midnight.

I reported to the district at 12:00 a.m. with my gun in its holster and wearing the police-issued uniform designed for a man. I was the only woman to stand for roll call. Until that time, women had only worked with juveniles. My new partner and I were assigned to a wagon, and I began my career as a police officer. I had done what most people considered impossible for women. I was now a guardian for the community. I patrolled the streets of Philadelphia for twelve years until an auto accident forced me to retire.

~Kathy Morris

More stories from our partners