Showing recruits the ropes Woman: As head of physical training at the state police academy, Maryann P. Foxwell's achievements are firsts for the agency.

September 24, 1998|By Dail Willis | Dail Willis,SUN STAFF

Heat and sweat fill the gymnasium at the Maryland State Police Academy in Pikesville as 48 recruits run laps, lift weights and grunt through chin-ups, pullups and push-ups.

A call to order and the day's lesson begins: how to take handcuffs off your belt so they're ready for immediate use. It's a five-step sequence, trickier than it looks, and it's not long before at least one recruit is lost.

"SIRQUESTIONSIR!" It's one long word, shouted military-style.

Half a beat later, he corrects himself. Slower this time, but just as loud.

"I-MEAN-MA'AM!"

First Sgt. Maryann P. Foxwell doesn't even pause as she takes the recruit through the handcuff sequence, one-on-one. As the first woman to lead physical training at the Maryland State Police Academy in Pikesville, she's used to slips like that.

Besides, she points out briskly, they don't mean much.

"The men see your gender at the outset. But once they see you're competent, you know your stuff, you're genderless," she says.

Foxwell, a 37-year-old mother of two, has been a state trooper for nearly 17 years. After heading the academy's physical training program for four years, she is headed for a new job: establishing the agency's first in-service fitness standard for troopers.

Those achievements put Foxwell front and center in an agency whose history with women is short and shadowed.

Women were not admitted to the state police academy until 1974, when six women completed the six-month training.

Once in the ranks, the path was thorny for some. Two women sued the agency in 1994, claiming they had been the targets of sexual discrimination on the job. A man who had tried to help one of them also sued. All three suits were settled out of court. The agency has twice come under review by the U.S. Justice Department after allegations of harassment and discrimination surfaced.

That history makes Foxwell, and the other 144 women in the 1,605-member force, stand out inside and outside the agency.

"She has high visibility -- there's a message to every recruit and every member of the Maryland State Police. When you're a recruit, your instructors have a big influence," said Col. David B. Mitchell, the head of the agency. "She's invaluable."

Foxwell acknowledges that the culture of the state police -- an organization modeled on the military, with a strong emphasis on appearance, fitness and chain-of-command obedience -- is not always easy, particularly for women. But she hopes her success and her work with recruits can open some doors.

'I am a role model'

"I am a role model as a trooper and as a female minority trooper," she says.

Her students concur. And they watch closely.

"She knows her stuff -- she's not just sliding by. As a class, we can see that," says trooper candidate Mattie Cymele, a 24-year-old woman from Baltimore in the current recruit class at the academy. Cymele is no slouch herself, having taught kick-boxing and trained for the national championship for stick fighting.

"She's the ultimate teacher. She's a hawk -- she'll find someone on the other side of the gym who needs help," says Robert Moriarty, 34, a former Army captain from New Jersey now in the training academy.

Teacher, trainer, trailblazer -- the labels sit lightly on this sturdy, strong-willed daughter of a couple who ran a Chinese-American restaurant in Washington during her childhood. She was one of nine children, and the only one in her family to enter law enforcement.

"I was a tomboy growing up -- I had to fight my four brothers," she recalls.

After high school, she chose the state police -- "I liked the freedom of not sitting behind a desk" -- and was accepted into the 82nd class at the academy. Her career began as a patrol officer in Prince George's County, and has taken her through a variety of departments and assignments within the state police.

"I've been very fortunate -- I've moved around," she says.

After a couple of years on patrol, she worked in recruitment, then joined the criminal investigation division.

In 1994, Maj. Michael S. Panos, who then headed the training division, chose Foxwell as the academy's physical training instructor.

"Sergeant Foxwell had displayed the energy that was needed, the determination," Panos says. "She knew her stuff."

What she didn't already have, she got through sweat equity. As she prepared for her first class of recruits four years ago, she TTC realized that she couldn't do the 10 pullups she would expect the class to master.

"I'm not going to say women can't," she says.

She spent six months training on the pullup bar -- and when class convened, she did the 10 to set the example.

"That got a lot of respect," she says, smiling at the memory.

Training is not just the route to bragging rights in the gym, however. The physical-fitness instructors also teach recruits how handle unruly suspects without getting hurt -- how to anticipate a threat, guard against attack and subdue those who resist arrest with force.

'She wants us to survive'

"She wants us to survive," Moriarty, the recruit, says of his teacher.

Foxwell sends a double message across the training mats: Women can do the job. And they can also do damage.

"A lot of times, they have a false sense of security dealing with a female suspect," she says of her students, most of whom are men. "It opens their eyes -- a woman can hurt you."

Pub Date: 9/24/98

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