Monday, December 22, 2014

‘Keep your head up and give it your all, no matter what’

By DOUG CARDER, Herald Senior Writer | 10/11/2013

On a crisp day in March 1995, Ottawa police officer Bobbie Hawkins responded to a distress call about a boy in the swift-running Marais des Cygnes River.

Hawkins found a young, submerged boy clinging for his life to a clump of brush along the bank.

On a crisp day in March 1995, Ottawa police officer Bobbie Hawkins responded to a distress call about a boy in the swift-running Marais des Cygnes River.

Hawkins found a young, submerged boy clinging for his life to a clump of brush along the bank.

“The little guy, he was probably 7 or 8 years old, was wading down by the river, and the current was a little fast then,” Hawkins said. “He was hanging on to the weeds that grow up there off the bank.”

Hawkins and other officers arriving on the scene grasped hands and formed a human chain leading down to the boy.

“We held on to each other so one of us could dangle down and pull him up,” Hawkins said.

Hawkins latched onto the boy.

“We plucked him out of the river just like you would a cork,” she recalled, smiling. “The poor kid was soppin’ wet and cold and scared to death. His parent came down and was scared to death. One of the best parts of the job is when you can reunite young children that are lost or scared with their parents.”

Hawkins described the rescue as one of the team ventures that define police work.

But it didn’t start out that way for the first woman to reach the rank of sergeant with the Ottawa Police Department. On Oct. 3, Hawkins marked her 30th anniversary on the force.

Hawkins, 53, joined the department full-time in October 1983 as the parking control officer.

“Aka, meter maid,” she said, laughing.

Hawkins would remain in that role for three years — also performing a variety of other duties including animal control, dispatch and front office duties — until October 1986 when she graduated from the Kansas Law Enforcement Training Center in Hutchinson and was assigned to the squad’s patrol division.

“I was the only female officer at that time, and the guys didn’t know what to think,” Hawkins said. “My very first shift I was assigned to, one of the guys — he was older — just flat told me, ‘I’ll never trust you. I just don’t like working with women.’ I told him, ‘I’m really sorry you feel that way, but just give me the chance and I’ll show you I can do the job.’

“Several months went down the road, and that same guy came back and apologized and said he had made a mistake and judged things prematurely, and that it wasn’t so bad to work with a girl after all,” Hawkins said. “It made me smile. At that point, I knew then if I could win over this one certain officer, I knew I was going to be able to slide right in.”

SINGLE MOM ON DUTY

Being a single mother working alternating day and night shifts made for a grueling pace, Hawkins said.

“I was raising two babies, working shift work,” Hawkins said. “At that time, we worked eight-hour shifts. We had kind of crazy schedules, working days, nights and swings. I worked holidays and weekends. There were many Christmases and Thanksgivings that I didn’t get to join the family, or we had to have a different day to celebrate the holidays, and it was tough to get through that.”

Kris Peterson, who was a dispatcher when Hawkins started and currently is a records clerk with the department, remembers those days well when Hawkins was juggling her responsibilities as a mother and her duties as an officer.

“I really admire her for sticking with it in a man’s world and moving up through the ranks,” Peterson said.

Peterson fondly recalled nights when Hawkins and she would meet after work to commiserate over guacamole and chips.

“I enjoyed watching Bobbie bring her children into work,” Peterson said. “Now they are grown with families of their own, and I like it when they bring their children in to visit.”

Hawkins’ son, J.W. Hawkins, is a detective with the Ottawa Police Department.

When her son started with the department five years ago, Hawkins said, she did a double-take every now and then when she ran into him in the hallway.

“When I would walk around the corner and see him, it took awhile to register that he really was supposed to be here,” Hawkins said, laughing. “He wasn’t that little guy running up and down the halls.”

While J.W. Hawkins decided he wanted to enter police work while serving in the U.S. Marine Corps in Iraq, he said, growing up with a mom who was a police officer gave him some insight into the profession.

“I had a familiarity with how things worked, having family in law enforcement,” he said.

Hawkins, who joined the department in her early 20s, said patrolmen served in the role of public safety officers in the 1980s when the police and fire squads were housed under one umbrella called the Department of Public Safety.

 “We were trained as firemen, too,” Hawkins said. “When we worked our shifts and a fire came in, we drove our patrol cars to the fire. We opened the trunk and took our gun belts off and our vests off and donned our fire gear and pulled hoses off the truck and fought fires right along with the driver engineers. It was hard work.”

When the public safety department dissolved into separate police and fire branches in 1991, Hawkins said, she opted to stay with the police department.

“You got to choose to be a policeman or a fireman,” she said. “I’m very happy with the choice I made. The fire end of the game wasn’t for me.”

MEAN STREETS

Life could be tough on the streets during Hawkins’ stint as a patrol officer from 1986 to 1991, she said, recalling a harrowing incident in 1991 when she fractured her skull and suffered a severe concussion after falling head first into a concrete drainage ditch.

“Near the corner of Hickory and Logan Street, there was an concrete drainage ditch [covered with overgrowth] that I couldn’t see. I was chasing a suspect on foot and decided I would cut across to head him off. I dropped about 10 feet and suffered a skull fracture and concussion. I was hospitalized at RMH [Ransom Memorial Hospital, 1301 S. Main St., Ottawa,]. Most people don’t realize, but a concussion can really mess up your equilibrium and hearing and sight. I was off work for quite a while.”

Lauren (Hawkins) Freudenburg still remembers vivid details about her mother’s injury, she said.

“When I was a little kid growing up, I thought it was neat Mom was a police officer, but I didn’t really understand how dangerous her job could be until she fell and hit her head,” Freudenburg said. “I was in the second or third grade, and that was a very scary moment for me as a little girl. I remember that night like it was yesterday.”

J.W. Hawkins thought it was cool that his mom was a police officer, too, but he also knew at a young age that his mom’s work could be dangerous, he said.

“I knew bad things were happening, and she was out there, and the shift work was always hard,” J.W. Hawkins said. “When she got hurt, that was scary for both of us kids. It kind of helps you definitely realize [as an officer] what your family is going through.”

The role reversed in the Hawkins household when J.W. and Lauren both joined the Marines and were shipped out a week apart to Kuwait and Iraq.

“J.W. went into the Marines in 2000 and was in four years, and Lauren went in in 2002 and was in eight years,” Hawkins said. “They did tours at the same time in Iraq during the first wave [of the war]. I was trying to work and keep my mind off the fact they were deployed two weeks apart. I mowed a lot of grass during that time. Everybody’s grass in the neighborhood got mowed, because I had to keep busy.”

Both Hawkins’ children went to college after the war on the GI Bill, Bobbie Hawkins said, with J.W. pursuing a career in law enforcement and Lauren entering the health care profession, where she currently is completing her last year of nursing school.

Hawkins was pleased both of her children chose professions where they would be helping people, she said.

When she was a teenager, Lauren Freudenburg didn’t always see eye-to-eye with her mom, she said, but now realized her mother always was right.

“She’s one strong woman,” Freudenburg said. “She’s my idol, and I look up to her and want to be like her. Growing up she made me learn to give back to the community and about being a public servant, and I’m glad I will be in that role as a soon-to-be nurse.”

Freudenburg admires her mom for rising through the ranks in a male-dominated law enforcement agency, she said.

“As the only female officer, she was in a man’s world, and the Marine Corps is a man’s world,” Freudenburg said. “Mom would say to me, ‘Keep your head up and give it your all, no matter what.’ She said anything is possible if you try hard enough and believe in yourself.”

After serving as a patrol officer from 1986 to 1991, Bobbie Hawkins was assigned to the detective division, where she taught the first Drug Abuse Resistance Education classes in the Ottawa school district. The police department continues to teach those DARE classes today, along with playing host to a DARE camp.

SOLVING CRIMES

As a detective, Hawkins said, the most challenging cases have been the child sex abuse cases.

“The child molestation cases kind of hit home hard because you have kids of your own,” Hawkins said. “You wonder how could somebody do something like that to a poor innocent child. The youngest one was a 2-year-old girl. You wear the parent hat when you are comforting the child, and then you change your whole role and put on your police hat when you’re talking with the suspect.

“You wear a lot of hats in this job — parent, police officer, teacher, medical — people face struggles and challenges every day, and you have to be ready to help them,” she said.

As a detective, Hawkins worked a couple of homicide cases that were both solved — the Paul Duane Nicholson stabbing death in July 2010 and the Sky Nicole Cadarette shooting death in July 2009.

“My heart just pours out for the victims’ families,” Hawkins said. “You try to do the best you can for that victim’s family to resolve their sorrow. I got to know the families through the investigation. I still might see a victim’s family member in Walmart, and they will come right over out of their way to give you a hug and tell you how much they appreciate everything you’ve done. It’s like you become family. You were there for them during the hardest time they’ve ever had to face. You, law enforcement, are their rock.”

Hawkins said she enjoyed the detective division the most because of the excitement when a big case is brought to a successful conclusion and the teamwork that goes into the investigation.

“There’s been cases I’ve worked that I thought [the convicted person] should have had a lot stiffer punishment,” Hawkins said. “And there’s cases we worked when I said, ‘Hey, I’m not arresting this guy.’ You have to investigate the case fully, to the best of your ability. If the guy is wrongly accused, that’s my job as a police officer to also show that. If the accused is found to have broken the law, I believe they should get the full measure.”

Hawkins, who was promoted to patrol sergeant in 2000, said she would like to think the police department is well-respected by the public. She recalled an incident in August 1993 when four civilians — three men from Ottawa and a man from Shawnee — came to her aid and were honored by the city.

“One time, out by Country Mart [2138 S. Princeton Circle Drive, Ottawa], I was having a conversation with a guy that was mentally not stable,” Hawkins said. “I radioed for someone to come help me because he was kind of agitated, and before I knew it he had me on the ground and he was on top of me. Four guys pumping gas across the street came and helped me tremendously. They restrained him until the other officers arrived.”

Freudenburg said her mom, who now is a sergeant in the administrative division, recently worked a couple of shifts on the street to fill in for other officers and was able to defuse a disturbance just by showing up and treating people the way she would want to be treated.

Hawkins chuckles when thinking about that call in September.

“I went up, and they said, ‘Hey, Bobbie.’ And then they just wanted to talk and they forgot what they were mad about,” Hawkins said.

Hawkins’ commitment to police work has not changed through the years, no matter what the role, Dennis Butler, Ottawa police chief, said.

“She is an extremely hard worker, dedicated, and she is a team player,” Butler said. “She personifies that phrase: team player. If something needs to be done, she doesn’t stand idly by and let other people do it because it’s not her job. She offers to help, and she gets involved in a constructive way. She is the kind of employee that you wish all your employees took that approach in everything they did.”

Hawkins is a problem-solver who makes good decisions, the chief said.

“She’s not waiting for someone else to do it,” Butler said. “When she sees a problem or that something needs to be done, she takes care of it. And she is cheerful about it. Make no mistake, she’s not a pushover by any stretch. I don’t think anybody lasts in policing for 30 years regardless of their gender if they’re a pushover and are successful. And I consider her to be a successful police employee.”

Butler, who has hired several female police officers since he became chief nine years ago, said gender has nothing to do with being a good law enforcement officer.

“There were good female and male police officers and there were bad police officers,” Butler said of his time with the Alexandria, Va., Police Department. “Your gender had nothing to do it. I had no problem going on calls with 95 percent of the women I worked with. They did a good job, practiced good officer safety and they were there when you needed them.”

ACCREDITATION

Butler tasked Sgt. Hawkins about 18 months ago with what he said was the extremely difficult role of serving as the department’s accreditation manager. The department is seeking what only 4 percent of the 18,000 non-federal law enforcement agencies across the United States have achieved — accreditation through Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies Inc., which was created in 1979 to establish a body of professional standards and to develop an accreditation process to ensure law enforcement agencies were following best practices and adhering to the highest standards of professionalism, according to law enforcement websites.   

“I’ve been through this before [in Alexandria], and I know what’s involved,” Butler said of the accreditation process. “You can’t have a procrastinator leading this. You have to have someone who is driven, who can set goals, who can meet goals, who can get others who need to assist in reaching those goals to do what they need to do.”

Butler knew Hawkins was the right person in his agency for the role, because she fit all the qualities a good accreditation manager needed to possess to get the job done under the pressures of a deadline, he said. The department only has three years to complete the process and currently is in the self-assessment phase, Butler and Hawkins said.

Hawkins had a tremendous learning curve in the beginning, but she didn’t let that discourage her, Butler said. The chief provides advice and direction, but he doesn’t have to micromanage the project because of Hawkins’ efforts, he said.

“She is doing a fabulous job,” he said.

Butler is glad Hawkins persevered the past three decades through all the adversities that go along with being a police officer, he said.

“I’m glad she’s stuck it out and is with us,” Butler said. “She’s doing really important work for me now.”

Hawkins likes the new challenges of her administrative role, and if she had her choice she would finish out her career in the administration division, she said.

“Sometimes I tend to volunteer and stretch myself a little thin, but I just love this job,” she said. “It’s nice to be able to wake up in the morning and want to come to work. You have a good time, and you like the people you work with. It’s fun.”

Hawkins has no plans for retirement in the near future, she said.

“I’ve still got a few good years in me,” Hawkins said, smiling. “It’s been quite a ride. I hope it continues a little longer.”

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