Pubdate: Wed, 3 Dec 2008
Source: Houston Chronicle (TX)
Copyright: 2008 Houston Chronicle Publishing Company Division, Hearst Newspaper
Author: Dane Schiller, Houston Chronicle


Recruiter Emphasizes the Value of Brains Over Brawn

A federal drug agent gets a badge, and is trained to shoot, kick in 
doors and slap on handcuffs.

Often though, it is the smarter agent, not the stronger one, who 
catches the bad guy.

"It is brains, not just brawn," said Violet Szeleczky, a senior Drug 
Enforcement Administration agent based in Houston. "You have to be 
able to put two and two together," she said of the twists an 
investigation takes.

Szeleczky, who oversees the recruiting squad in this region, is 
hoping to get that message across in order to boost the number of 
women who might otherwise shy away from a career with the DEA, which 
is 91 percent male.

It is a disparity not unlike those among the ranks of the Houston 
Police Department, the Marine Corps and other outfits also trying to 
extend their appeal to female recruits.

The HPD, which is 86 percent male, recently unveiled advertising that 
features images of female officers and testimonials posted on the Web.

"In my entire life, I have never felt more purposeful and elated 
every time I wake up to start a new day," says Anna Swanson, a new 
officer who was the leader of her HPD Academy class. "I have never 
been so happy and healthy as I am now and full of direction and purpose."

Swanson tells visitors to the department's Web site that she feels 
comfortable on the job.

"I pull my hair back in a tight ponytail, braid it and roll it up 
into a bun," she says in her testimonial. "I fasten my vest on over 
my black undershirt and put on my blue uniform adorned with my new HPD badge."

Sgt. D.V. Barfield, of the HPD recruiting unit, said a concerted 
effort to attract women seems to be yielding results.

Female Applicants

During the current fiscal year, 903 of 4,460 HPD applicants have been 
female, Barfield said.

"There is really not an area that we won't venture out into to 
recruit women," said Barfield, who added that officers set up a booth 
near the finish of the 2008 Komen Houston Race for the Cure, a 
running event to combat breast cancer.

Larry Karson, a University of Houston criminal justice lecturer and 
retired U.S. Customs Service agent, said bringing more women into law 
enforcement isn't about meeting quotas, but rather improving the 
ability of agencies and departments to do their jobs.

"You want to have your enforcement to be a reflection of the 
community you are enforcing your laws with," he said.

"It is kind of like saying we don't need any blacks or 
Mexican-Americans," Karson continued. "Not only should they be part 
of the department, they have a right for an opportunity to be part of 
the department."

The answer for why there aren't more women in the ranks is 
complicated. Stereotypes, the agency's willingness to provide mentors 
and institutional support all are factors.

Time in the Streets

Enforcing the law is not all about wild chases, shootouts and 
wrestling people in the streets, Karson said.

"You watch TV at night, and that is what you are seeing," he said. 
"You don't see anyone doing paperwork; you don't see them doing 
interviews or extensive, long-term investigations."

Szeleczky said all DEA agents spend time in the streets, but there 
are career paths that are more analytical and behind the scenes.

"We are looking for a woman that is physically fit and able to keep 
up with the guys when they are kicking down doors, sitting on 
surveillance and arresting bad guys," she said. "We are also 
involved, just like men, in investigations that involve our 
analytical ability."

There is also plenty of time spent gathering and analyzing 
information, to figure out how criminal organizations try to sneak 
drugs and cash past law enforcement.

Szelecky said that while she was undercover years ago, a duffle bag 
stuffed with $500,000 was so heavy she couldn't carry it up a flight 
of stairs, but there have also been times when she's gained more 
information than male agents.

"Bad guys have a tendency to shoot their mouths off in front of 
women," she said.

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