CHATHAM – The Women’s Club of Chatham got a crash course in women’s safety in September, and also learned a little about what it’s like to be the only female officers on the Chatham and Harwich Police Departments.
Sergeant Sarah Harris of the Chatham Police and Sergeant Amy Walinski of the Harwich Police Department joined forces on Sept. 23 during a special meeting of the Women’s Club where they spoke with roughly 30 local women about ways to stay safe while also sharing their experiences as women in policing.
The idea for the safety discussion was hatched when Leslie Borkoski, co-chair of the Women’s Club Civic Group, was talking with her husband about the Citizen’s Police Academy, which he’d attended last winter. He suggested the group contact Harris, who then offered to reach out to Walinski so that Harwich members of the club were represented, as well.
The two presented a PowerPoint slideshow that began with information on what’s known as the crime triangle featuring the three key elements necessary for crimes to occur—desire, ability, and opportunity—and the many actions people, particularly women, can take to break the triangle and stay safe.
For example, both Harris and Walinski said the assumption that the Cape remains a safe enough place to leave doors and cars unlocked is dated.
“We’ll go to a car B and E (breaking and entering) or a house break and we’ll say, ‘Were the doors locked?’” Walinski said. “People tell us, ‘Well no. I live on Cape Cod.’ Crime does still happen on Cape Cod. Make sure you lock your doors, car and house.”
They also suggest utilizing alarm systems whenever possible for both homes and cars.
Further vehicle safety tips included parking in well-lit areas, ideally under streetlamps and not near larger vehicles such as vans, campers, or trucks. With regard to other means of transportation, such as walking, biking, or taking the bus, they encouraged women to be aware of their surroundings by keeping their heads up and not wearing headphones or ear buds. Carry belongings close to the body, have a planned route and share it with someone trusted, and be sure to carry some type of emergency contact information and personal identification.
“They say, ‘This is Chatham. Nothing happens here,’” Harris said. “I have some stories. Anything is possible. It can be the quietest night every night, and then one night at 3 a.m. all hell hits the fan.”
Paying attention to one’s instincts is vital, Harris added.
“Depending on what environment you’re in, if it feels uncomfortable, get yourself out of it,” she said. “Follow your instincts.”
Avoiding phone and other types of scams was also a popular topic. Harris and Walinski covered everything from the “grandchild in jail” scam to IRS phone scams, neighborhood solicitation for work scams, and utility scams. They advised people to check their bills, online accounts, and credit card statements for suspicious activity.
Both also urged those in attendance to call the local police if they feel like something is amiss.
“I feel like they don’t want to bother us,” said Walinski. “They think [a problem] is petty or nothing at all.”
“We’re not everywhere,” added Harris. “If you see something unusual, call us. We don’t mind coming out. If you hear a knock at your front door and aren’t expecting anybody, call us.”
They also talked about their experiences as women in a traditionally male-dominated profession. Harris has been a police officer for more than 20 years, while Walinski was previously a commercial fisherman and has been an officer for almost 15 years.
“They were interested in the career and how we chose it, and women in policing in particular,” said Harris. “They were quite amazed by some of the things we deal with when we’re on the job.”
“A lot of people think because you’re a female you have a partner,” Walinski said. “That you go everywhere with somebody in a car or are always in the station, which isn’t the case.”
In fact, both are sergeants in charge of specific units at each department and often work the overnight shift.
“We’ve been with our departments so long that we know each other so well and work together well,” Walinski said.
Harris said that there are differences between male and female police officers, especially regarding physical strength and abilities, but that officers typically focus on their unique styles and overall strengths.
“A male is going to be able to fight longer oxygen-wise than I can, so I have to use different tactics,” Harris said. “Mentally I deal with people, they say, maybe a little softer, but it also will get me into different places that maybe a male won’t get into.”
Borkoski said the women in attendance enjoyed the seminar, which also included a tour of the Chatham Police Station.
“It was very well received,” she said. “Just hearing about how the departments are run and how many officers are on route at one time was interesting. I think a lot of the women were pleased to get the safety tips. There are some that live alone, so it helps. We’re also pleased that we’re protected by a great police force that wants to have a great relationship with the community, and I think that’s one of the goals for Harwich, also.”
Naturally, Harris and Walinski encouraged the group to consider joining the next Citizen’s Police Academy, which in Chatham begins in January.