Somebody's Gotta Do It: Women in uniform

LUFKIN, TX (KTRE) - It was no TV cop drama for Libby Parish who left civilian life to become a Lufkin police officer 22 years ago.

"I don't know if there's a comparison. I think it's easier for a female.  I think a female now just has to prove themselves as an officer," said Parish.

Parish is one of only handful of female officers to wear the blue uniform for LPD.  With it came a price and a tremendous responsibility.  "Back in those days I could go somewhere and they'd say wow I'd never seen a female….policeman, police, police… and they wouldn't know what to call me."

Add to that the sometimes complicated fact that her husband is also in law enforcement.  "I would say probably the female officers were held to a little different standard than male officers were especially back then not so much today but back then and in East Texas I'll just say there were some more challenges," said Libby's husband, David Parish.

Challenges like gender bias and misconceptions of being less physically capable in a male dominated profession.  Ironically, it was riding along with her husband, part of a spousal riding program, which spurred Libby to leave her secretarial job at Lufkin Industries and pursue a career in law enforcement.

"My husband was a Lieutenant with Angelina County sheriff's office and on weekends they were short for officers, had no supervisors, so, he would get out and he would work extra and I would ride with him and he'd get back in the car and I'd say, 'What'd you do?,' and he'd tell me. And I'd say, 'OK, I can do that.'  And this went on and then after a while it was kind of something that I really began to want to do. Then one day he came in and said, 'The Lufkin PD is hiring.  Why don't you go get an application?" 

Early years on the force were spent patrolling the streets of Lufkin.  In the beginning her husband was very watchful of his high school sweetheart. "Believe it or not we didn't swap a lot of war stories back then, more so now than we did back then.  When she first went to work for Lufkin PD I was a Lieutenant in the sheriff's office.  Naturally, I kind of listened to the Lufkin PD channel.  If she was on a bad call I was kind of hanging out in the area.  I didn't get involved just kind of stayed back, but it didn't take long to realize she could handle herself with no problem.  She had a great group of guys that she was working with and they were going to take care of her anyway so."

Libby spent her off duty hours doing what most wives and mothers do, cleaning, cooking, and spending time with the family.  "At times there were some challenges, especially when our son was smaller and I worked in law enforcement at the same time she did.  Fortunately, most of the time our shifts were opposite each other so we were able to take care of Kyle and get all of our bases covered."  "You know sometimes I think with our son with having a mom and a dad in law enforcement, 'How did that affect him?' and that's the only real regret that I have and I'm not sure it's a regret not really…he's a good kid," said Libby.

It was not until his teenage years that their son Kyle says he realized the danger that goes along with being a police officer and the added pressure that many female officers experience.

"I always thought, 'What happens if mom doesn't come home?' You know," said Kyle Parish.

Libby's older sister Mary Foster says she never really worried about that. "I just knew that she was in the hands of the Lord and that's the way we put it."

Nowadays stars of popular TV cop shows have helped make it more accepting for women in uniform. "Though we've progressed in a lot of ways we still don't see a lot of women in law enforcement, particularly in this area," said Lt. David Young, LPD.

Indeed, statistics by the U-S Census Bureau show even today only about 14% of police officers and detectives in the United States are women. "Follow your dreams, work hard, and go for it. Don't expect anybody to give you anything, you've got to earn it.  I think it's it is still a career field that is important, there is that thin blue line."

For more than 22 years Libby Parish has walked that thin blue line that some say separates an ordered society from potential chaos.  She did it dressed in blues, pistol on her hip, carrying a badge and armed with what Chief Scott Marcotte says is the most important weapon of all.  "She's been a stable steady influence for the Lufkin police department.  Anybody can go out there and get in trouble and get in fights and aggravate people, but it takes a smart person and person of good integrity and character to use the best weapon that you have, which is your brain," said Marcotte.

"She's really good for like when we deal with family matters.  She was really intense and she knew how to talk to people.  It's kind of a relief when she'd show up at the call like that," recalls fellow officer Randy Stallard.

Stallard says she is a great communicator who is not reluctant to use force when necessary.

Libby says she is not a trailblazer.  She insists that honor goes to the female officers who started before her.  "Renee Colquitt was here at the time and she's still here. I don't know the first female officer her name was Maria Garza but I do work with her son.  I think I had an advantage with people here within the department because I was not totally unknown.  They knew my husband and a lot of officers knew me so it made things a little bit easier."

Tested, tried, and true this woman in uniform has helped open doors for others to follow.

Last month Libby Parish became the first female officer to retire from the Lufkin Police Department.  Her son Kyle says now he has to worry that she does not become bored.  Libby says not to worry, she has about three months of projects to keep her busy and then she plans to find a job. "My husband retired on Friday and went back to work on Monday.  I don't really want to do that.  I'm looking at several different things, but I plan on going back to work maybe sometime later in the spring, early summer, and doing something I'm not sure exactly what but it will be something fun something that I want to do."