Swapping Stilettos for Combat Boots: Sharyn Buck

“I come from a family of police officers,” she said. “Two of my brothers and my step-son are police officers, and my husband is a retired cop, so I was destined to be here.”

As a Commanding Officer of the Communications Division with the LAPD, Buck oversees all the 911 calls and emergency dispatches. When a 911 call for help comes in, her department sends out the police units and notifies all appropriate emergency city agencies. The communications division is the largest in the LAPD, having almost 610 employees. Most departments consist of about 275 to 300 people. “We answer about 8,000 calls for help per day, which is the second highest number in the nation next to the City of New York,” she said. The LAPD employs 10,000 police officers, while New York has 30,000.

“Our 911 operators are very hard-working and answer traumatic calls for help all day long,” Buck said. “To send police units to people in need so fast, and to continually manage terrified callers is a big job.” Her department consists of mostly civilian employees, although some are sworn; it runs 24 hours a day, seven days a week. “We dispatch for the fire department as well, and we just took on the 911 cell phone service,” she said. The 911 calls made on a cellular phone use to be directed to the California Highway Patrol, but now, unless a caller is on the freeway, the phone will transmit to the nearest cell tower and route to the LAPD. “This change is really better for our city and its citizens,” she stated.

Her stress level at work can sometimes be hard to bear. “The job itself is stressful, especially at this level, but I have to leave it at work,” she recognized. Fortunately for this police captain, she comes home to share her experiences with an interested husband, also a former police officer. “Talking about my day helps to relieve tension,” she said. In addition, Buck is a runner, a golfer and has logged in countless miles at nearly every mall in Southern California to help her work off her work-induced stress.

“That’s actually one of the questions we ask our potential officers in the oral interview, “what will you do to relieve the stress of the job?” — because no one can tolerate a job as a law enforcement officer without some method of relaxation,” Buck said. She’s learned from personal experience. From the moment she hits the gym to work out at 4:30 a.m., her day is filled with an array of challenges and predicaments she must solve.
Prior to her post at the communications division, Buck supervised the Juvenile division of the LAPD. This department handles youth programs and all investigations involving child abuse. “We handled everything from the Archdioceses and other high-profile cases to scandals involving teachers and coaches,” she said.

Buck has witnessed significant changes in the LAPD during the past two decades. In the early eighties, there were about 600 women in the entire department. “Today there are about 2500 women, which means that 25 percent of our police officers are female,” she said. “And we recently promoted two women to commander, which had not happened in years.” LAPD Chief Bratton, Buck’s direct supervisor, has been committed to moving women to higher ranks and is sensitive about selecting them to represent the department at all levels.

“We want more women within the city of LA,” Buck said. “And there are so many opportunities for them now within the department.” But with guns, gangs and violent crime so rampant, what would lure a typical female to such a position? “Actually, we have the best academy in the country and our women are well trained for over seven months there,” she declared. “And after a year or two on the street, they can get promoted to lieutenant or other high-ranking positions.” With more female cops than ever now on motorcycles, with canine units, flying helicopters and doing specialized investigations, women are moving into places within the department where they have never been before.

Although her humble character would not allow her to admit it, Buck is considered a justifiable trailblazer for women in the LAPD. Until recently, she was one of only two female captains in the department. The command centers, which are made up of captains and above, consist of 115 commanders, 12 of which are now women.

“It’s been a great ride,” Buck said. “I never thought I’d want to be a police officer, but I’ve been very happy, and I get to help people every day.” And with such shoes to fill, her adaptability to slip out of her slinky heels and into those rigid boots has served her very well.

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