Detective Stephanie Perkins, left, and Officer Mandy Wilson survey the city streets from the roof of a downtown Starkville building. They are two of eight females in the Starkville Police Department. Photo by: Micah Green/Dispatch Staff
August 4, 2012 9:47:08 PM
If you ask Starkville Chief of Police David Lindley what sets his department apart from the rest you might expect him to talk about the city's low crime rate or the high morale among officers. While those things definitely cast his department in a favorable light, what sets the Starkville Police Department apart is something else: The chief's pride in his female officers.
With eight female officers, the SPD has the among the highest number of women law enforcement officials in the state. From patrol to detective to SWAT, the women of the department exemplify what it means to not only be a good officer but a good citizen of Oktibbeha County.
For two of those women, Mandy Wilson and Stephanie Perkins, to protect and serve isn't just a slogan painted on the door panel of a squad car; it's a way of life.
Wilson started at the department as a dispatcher in early 2008. Less than two years later, she joined the ranks as a patrol officer. A mother of three, Wilson said she wanted to become an officer because she wanted to be on the other side of the radio.
"I felt like I could do more on the street helping people,'' she said. "Being a mother, I wanted to help the people of Starkville."
For many men and women in blue, fellow officers are like family. More often than not, you will hear an officer say they are married to the job. For Wilson, both statements have a more literal meaning. She met her husband and fellow officer Josh Wilson in 2008 when she was working as the dispatcher for his shift. The pair have been married for three years and while they are on different shifts, Wilson says being married to a fellow officer is easy because "both of us know what the other goes through on a daily basis at work."
In addition to being a patrol officer, Wilson is also a certified a Crime Scene Investigator and Field Training Officer. Wilson speaks fondly of her time in patrol and says there is no such thing as a typical day.
'There is always something different,'' said Wilson, who looks forward to being able to advance in the department, using her experience and knowledge of the streets as a detective.
For Wilson's friend and fellow officer, Detective Perkins' experience as a former patrol officer is something she uses every day as an investigator.
Perkins joined the Army at age 17 and served eight years in the National Guard as a diesel mechanic. She served in Tikrit, Iraq, from 2003-2004 and joined the SPD in 2005. She became the only female member of the SWAT team in 2008. Perkins is also the only female sniper in the state of Mississippi and has been since 2009.
For Perkins, opportunities within the SPD, such as advancing to detective, have allowed to her find her niche in law enforcement.
"This job is so open, you can pick an area and really excel at it," said Perkins, who worked as a patrol officer for seven years before her recent move to investigations. "As a detective ,you get to break it down; witnesses, suspects and tie it all together. You get to see the conclusion."
Perkins said law enforcement is not just something you do for a living.
"It's a mindset, a way of life,'' Perkins said. "It takes a special person to do this job. It changes the way you think, the way you are."
Wilson and Perkins, who have jokingly been referred to as popular crime solving team Cagney and Lacey, have been fast friends since their time together on patrol. As the dynamic due sits over breakfast at The Starkville Cafe, they recall stories from their time spent on countless late-night shifts. It is obvious to anyone who listens to the two finish each other's sentence that they share a bond only shared by two people who have put their lives in the other person's hand.
The two are both proud graduates of Mississippi Law Enforcement Officer's Training Academy in Pearl. The academy's 10-week para-military training course has earned 41 national titles and three world titles. Perkins graduated from the academy is 2005 and Wilson in 2010. The two say MLEOTA is one of the more physically challenging academies in the state and helped prepare them to put their life on the line every day.
Both Wilson and Perkins deny that working in a traditionally male-dominated field affects their performance.
"A lot of people may think we have a lot to prove so we overcompensate,'' Perkins said. "That's not true. I think we are all aware of our own strengths and weaknesses. We have to be."
In addition to Perkins and Wilson, six other women are rising through the ranks at the SPD: Laura Robertson joined the department in April 2004. Brooke Manigold in March 2009, Crystal Myers in Dec. 2009, Gabrielle Hernandez in Oct. 2010, Ashley Hannah in Sept. 2011 and Amber Hayden in Feb. 2012.
Sarah Fowler covers crime, education and community related events for The Dispatch. Follow her on Twitter @FowlerSarah
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