Cruising for crime

A Howard County policewoman keeps watch over the Columbia area at night

At Work

September 27, 2006|By Nancy Jones-Bonbrest | Nancy Jones-Bonbrest,Special to The Sun

Cory Zirk

Police officer

Howard County Police Department

Age --29

Years in business --Seven

Salary --$59,000

How she got started --She's known since the third grade that she wanted to be a police officer. She said it started with an interest in crime solving and mystery books. After graduating from the University of Maryland with a degree in criminal justice, Zirk enrolled in the Howard County Police Academy.

Typical night --Zirk, a patrol officer in the Columbia area, works the night shift from 6:30 p.m. to 6:30 a.m. She works three consecutive nights and then has the next three off. Most of her time is spent patrolling her area, following up on calls that come into the station and making traffic stops. Paperwork, which Zirk can complete on her laptop in the patrol car, also takes a good amount of time.

Night shift --Zirk said she enjoys working the night shift. "I think you have a more close-knit squad because you have more serious calls sometimes on night shift." She said it also allows her more freedom to not just respond to calls coming in, but to also go out and do what she calls "insight" work. This includes traffic stops to look for drivers under the influence of drugs or alcohol and patrolling high-crime areas.

The good --The job can be very rewarding. "It comes down to the little things sometimes ... " like changing a tire for someone or giving directions, she said. But there are larger rewards such as arresting someone with an illegal gun or with drugs. "I feel like I've made a difference."

The bad --"There's a sense of helplessness sometimes." She said she deals with a lot of career criminals and over time it becomes frustrating. "You try to talk to them. You do what you can for the few hours you are with them. But I think it's the rare exception where you see people actually change after police contact."

On being a female police officer --Zirk credits the support of her fellow officers. "I think police departments realize that a mix of races, sexes and creeds are better able to deal with the ... community."

Her best day --Zirk received a silver star in 2002 for her part in a domestic assault call where a man broke into the home of his former wife. Zirk was one of four officers called to the scene. She was able to open a bedroom window to help a child and the mother get out of danger while a tactical team arrested the man. "That was rewarding. It was high intensity, but we were all able to do what we were trained to do."

The danger of the job --"I really trust my instincts. ... I know my limitations and take all the preparations knowing that something can go wrong."

Stays fit --Zirk regularly goes to the gym and runs every other day to stay in shape.

Philosophy on the job --"Treat people the way you want to be treated."

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