Woman joins top ranks of Howard department

23-year veteran becomes 1st female police captain, will lead Northern District

January 06, 2002|By Julie Bykowicz | Julie Bykowicz,SUN STAFF

For the first time in its 50 years of existence, the Howard County Police Department will have a woman seated among the high-ranking officers at its weekly command staff meeting - a move some have called overdue.

On Jan. 15, Nancy Yeager, the first woman in the department to be promoted to captain, will pull up to the table alongside the police chief, two deputy chiefs and six other captains when she assumes her role as Northern District commander. She rose from lieutenant to captain New Year's Day.

Police Chief Wayne Livesay said the department was slow to bring a woman onto its command staff.

"This was a great opportunity for diversification," he said of Yeager's promotion.

Yeager will oversee about 90 police officers as Northern District commander.

Yeager, a 23-year veteran of the force, views her promotion less as a step forward for female police officers than as the realization of a personal goal.

"At this organization, you make your own career," Yeager said. "It is made very clear what you need to do here to succeed, and if you do it, eventually you'll get what you want."

Livesay, whose rise to captain took about 24 years, said the department identified Yeager's leadership potential years ago.

State's Attorney Marna L. McLendon, one of the first female police officers in the county, called Yeager's promotion "an extremely encouraging move."

Yeager's career illustrates the changing gender makeup of police work. When she became a police officer in the late 1970s, women did not have their own uniform trousers. They had to hem the men's version to fit, Yeager said.

Yeager's first obstacle to becoming a police officer was her parents. When she applied to the Howard County department in 1978, she had to talk her father into making sure her mother stayed calm during Yeager's background check.

Yeager was the first woman to become a lieutenant in the Howard Police Department when Chief James N. Robey promoted her to the information management systems unit in 1993.

Her promotion to captain leaves two women among the 17 lieutenants in the department.

Yeager, 46, said she never intended to be a police officer for so long but added: "This has become like a family. I met my husband here."

John Yeager retired from the department in 1992 to take care of their daughter, Abby, now 11. The family lives in Harford County.

A review of the department's history reveals few women during its early years.

Al Hafner, chairman of the department's history committee, found in researching the early years of female police officers in the county that:

Betty Maris became the first sworn female officer in the county when she joined the department in 1960. Maris stayed two years.

Nine years after Maris was sworn in, the second woman joined the department. Lee Makowski, who became an officer in 1969, retired in 1984.

In 1974, two more women, Linda Halle and Marna Cress (now McLendon), joined the force.

Although women are an increasing presence in police academies, only 60 - about 17 percent - of the 360 Howard police officers are women.

McLendon said other area departments seem to have promoted women more quickly than Howard County has.

"We're not terribly behind," McLendon said. "Just probably somewhat overdue."

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