AUSTIN, Tex. (KXAN) — The city of Austin is recognizing the unique strengths that only women can bring to its police department. As APD works to recruit more female officers in a very male-dominated field, a couple of the department’s female role-models are leading the way.
Lieutenant Katrina Pruitt and Officer Katrina Ratcliff have the same first name and the same love for police work, but are at very different stages of their careers.
Officer Ratcliff has been with the department for just two years, but she’s no stranger to the gun range.
“My interests are definitely in shooting and driving,” she smiled as she loaded a magazine at APD’s training range. “That’s two of my favorite skills.”
Ratcliff was an Army staff sergeant and also worked for the Department of Homeland Security. For seven of her years in the Army, she worked with bomb and narcotics dogs. She deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan.
“A lot of females will get on the range, and they’ll get intimidated,” Ratcliff said of fellow officers who struggle with shooting. “They think it’s more of a masculinity-dominated area, and when they get nervous, it affects their shooting.”
Ratcliff is already training to become a trainer and help women hone these skills. She’ll need four years of patrol experience, however, before she can specialize at the training academy.
In the meantime, she’s keeping herself occupied. She’s applied and been chosen for the popular television show American Ninja Warrior not once, but twice, both times with a special goal motivating her.
“Being on American Ninja Warrior, it’s gained me a lot of visibility,” Ratcliff said. “I wanted to help give a light to police officers in a time that wasn’t so great in the media for us. Rather than hiding that we’re a police officer for our safety, to be vocal about it, to show people that I am just a normal human, and I do have a heart behind the badge.”
A heart for helping people that Lieutenant Pruitt says she’s always had, too. She dreamed of being an officer from the time she was little.
“You know, I can’t ever remember not wanting to be,” Pruitt smiled.
With 28 years on the police force, she says, “One of the hard parts is I’m 54 years old.”
She can keep up, though. Over the years, she’s covered just about every area of expertise one could imagine. She worked in the Organized Crime Unit, the Sex Crimes Unit and the Robbery Unit. She also volunteered as a hostage negotiator for 15 years. When she was younger, she’d work undercover, busting johns for prostitution. She also worked with a K9 on a narcotics team.
With all of that experience, she was promoted to be the first ever female to oversee APD’s SWAT team. Her team is made up entirely of men, most of them in their 20s or 30s.
“They’re 90 to nothing all of the time, and trying to keep up is interesting sometimes,” Pruitt said.
Pruitt could have retired five years ago, but she says she’s having too much fun to stop yet. And, she wants to make one big change before she thinks about retirement.
“We’ve never had a female that was an actual SWAT operator on the contemporary team that you see today,” Pruitt said.
The lieutenant is encouraging women to go for the job.
“Frankly, I’ve been able to walk into a situation as a female and say and do things that a male officer would’ve probably gotten in a fight,” she said.
Pruitt and Ratcliff both say the things that some feel set women apart also make them valuable on special teams.
“Not only can we deescalate things, we can figure out different ways to problem solve,” Ratcliff said. “We have a different nature to handle things.”
Both officers are actively helping APD with recruitment efforts to bring in more female employees.
“The more women we have, the better off this department will be,” Pruitt said.
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