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One of the Guys

Harvard's Only Policewoman Holds Her Own

By L. JOSEPH Garcia

Thirteen months ago on a sultry Sunday night, a small red light on the intricate communications console at the University Police headquarters blinked on. It signaled electronic alarm: there was a break-in at the master's residence at North House. Outside the Linnean St. house. North House Master J. Woodland Hastings told the first officer to arrive that the intruder was armed and that his wife was still inside the residence. Barbara A. Blaney Harvard's only female police officer, drew her standard issue 38 cal revolver and entered the darkened building. It was the only time Blaney has unholstered her weapon in three years on the street.

As it turned out, she and her backup officers captured the Cambridge man inside the house rather routinely. "It turned out to be not as serious as it appeared," she says now, adding. "It just shows you've got to step back and think before you do something unwarranted."

But according to her superiors--and, more significantly, her fellow patrolmen--doing something unwarranted is the last problem Blaney is likely to have. And department administrators add that the high degree of professionalism and the acceptance by peers achieved by Blaney and Marie Sullivan '79--who left the force recently to pursue an MBA degree--has cleared the way for other female officers at Harvard in the future.

University Police Chief Saul L. Chalin describes Blaney as "one of the most proficient police officers around, males, of course, included." In annual evaluations, she "scores as one of the highest rated personnel in the department," he adds.

"Barbars exudes a confidence in her role as a police officer that is very easy to read by others," Chafin says.

Blaney's confidence and her commonsense approach to the job served to case the tensions that might naturally rise from the addition of women into the patrol force. "Walking in her police shoes," notes University Police Capt, Jack W. Morse." I can see it being a somewhat difficult thing to walk into a male-dominated department."

He adds that "it's fair to say that she's accepted by her fellow officers. You just don't get the smart remarks you might get."

But Blaney's acceptance depended more on the opinions of her fellow patrolmen than on their common superiors. Officers interviewed recently give Blaney their highest praise they say they would want her to assist on any call One remarks. "When it comes to a backup. I'd take her as another officer with no problem No questions asked Period."

"With the economy like it is," Blaney says. "I'm sure there are people in the department who think a man with a family should have this job." But she adds that her superiors "don't ask me to do any less than the men, and I know [Chafin and Morse] don't want them to."

The 25-year-old Blaney said her election by her peers as an officer of the patrolman's union last year "was somewhat a vote of confidence--that I did a good enough job to handle the money in their treasury."

* * *

Department administrators feel the widespread acknowledgement of both Blaney and Sullivan by their peers is the best evidence that female representation on the force can be increased. "The department, from the chief on down, has demonstrated it's willing to accept people regardless of gender," Morse says, adding that "Barbara was a pioneer for that, and she'll be a good role model in the future."

Harvard, Chatin explains, is definite interested in finding additional women," especially is the vacancy created by Sullivan's departure "There will undoubtedly be a pro-active effort to identify strong female candidates."

But as in the hiring of Blaney and Sullivan no quotas will be established and no requirements will be modified. Chatin says. He explains that part of the reason for the success of the female officers is that the department "pulled no punches."

"There was no reason to change any of our high standards for the women to qualify," he says, adding that the female officers are accepted because their male counterparts are aware of this equality.

Blaney, who participates in several local groups for female officers, agrees with this assessment "The women who come on now are going to be judged by what the female officers have done before." She adds that "people in other departments that have had feelings about women on the job probably have had women on the job."

Although Blaney voices the need for more women on the Harvard force, she does not advocate a set percentage. "I don't think you want to have women because somebody decides you need better representation," she says. "If you get some kind of affirmative action pushing qualified and unqualified people in a group, then people condemn the whole group."

Alturnative action is something that Blaney personally never needed Policework is "something I wanted to do for a long time, since high school," she explains. She and a hometown friend from Newton. Mass joined a local Boy Scout Police Explorer post in 1972 when the national program became coeducational. In 1976, she joined the Harvard department as a radio dispatcher because at 19. "I was too young to take the civil service exam."

At the time, she was told routinely by superiors that she would probably never have a chance at moving into the patrol force "It had nothing to do with sex," she remarks. "They were trying to avoid the dispatchers being frustrated, wanting to be out on the street instead of doing then own job."

But in 1979, a year after Chatin arrived several openings for patrolmen were advertised. She took a general knowledge examination the first step in Harvard's selection process--along with 200 other candidates in Memorial Hall, the home of the largest undergraduate finals. But unlike in College tests, where "as many pass as know the material," Blancy explains. "That's not the way it is to get on the force when there are only four open spots."

Blaney qualified, and she and Sullivan were two of the first four women to attend the state's training academy at Topsfield, Mass. Although not discriminatory, the academy instructors were never sure what to expect of the female cadets, Blancy says. She recalls a shooting instructor who separated the women from the rest and told them to "go home and squeeze a tennis ball 500 times every night" so that they would be able to pull the trigger of a revolver. The following week on the range, Blancy--currently one of the two best shots in the department--tied with a male cadet for the group's top score, a perfect 100 mark. She then suggested to the instructor "that he just announce to the whole class that those without experience squeeze the tennis ball."

Blancy finished first in her academy class of 25, but she says she was still apprehensive when she started on foot patrols near the Charles River. "I don't think the other officers cared that you ran a seven minute mile or finished first in the class". She adds that "everybody is judged out on the street by whether you want a particular officer to come on your call with you Maybe I didn't have to try harder, but I left like I did.

The confidence others compliment her lot came with time on the beat. After about a year, I felt I could handle just about in thing "But the enjoyment she gets from the job comes largely from its unpredictable nature You never master it she explains. Every night you come out here, you get a call and you learn something from who's responsible for something in a building to a point of law in making an arrest."

The physical requirements of policework do not frighten her. "They teach you at the academy not to use your hands, to use the equipment you're issued," she says of possible confrontations, adding that she is "as qualified to use a baton as any of the men."

But she believes physical action can often be avoided. "You go to calls when it becomes a battle of egos and things get out of hand unnecessarily. I don't like to do things unnecessarily."

But her superiors and fellow patrolmen have no doubts about her capabilities. "She can really handle herself," remarks one officer "She won't back down to any man" Morse agrees, "When push comes to shove. Barbara can certainly hold her own."

In addition to patrolling on the midnight to 8 a.m. shift, Blaney serves as one of the female officers required by state law on Harvard's Sensitive Crime Unit. The unit investigates any sex-related crimes on University property.

She agreed to participate in special training programs for the unit because "it was something I had to do for my fellow women." she says, adding that "if I was in the position. I would want a woman available."

Blancy explains that a victim of tape might agree to be interviewed by a male officer "but be more reluctant to go into the detail with a man." By interviewing victims herself, she can sometimes strengthen a case. "It's nice to be able to present a district attorney a case that is so tight that the defendant pleads guilty and the victim doesn't have to go through the trauma of testifying in court."

"We bring her (Blaney) in even if she doesn't do the initial interview with the victim." Chalin explains. "It might be easier for a female victim to talk to her and that opinion is very, very important."

Despite her satisfaction with the job. Blaney says she still feels the pressure of more traditional female roles. "Some of it comes from home Both my parents are teachers, and I'm sure they always expected me to be a teacher." Social life is also difficult with midnight to 8 a. m. hours, making it "a struggle to keep old ties whether it's girlfriends or boyfriends." She adds that "after 10 or 15 years, some officers find out they only have friends who are other police officers, and I don't want that to happen to me."

Blaney's main occupation during off hours is a two-bedroom house she bought in Somerville. "I don't think you can ever get finished with something like that," she says.

But on duty, Blaney says, "having my freedom and being able to use my training is something I really enjoy." More than making a risky arrest, she explains her function "as part of a helping agency" is the most rewarding part of the job. "You feel really good when you get off the shift because you helped someone in a medical emergency or something. I don't think arresting someone makes me particularly happy."

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